Destination: Guelph and Grand Bend, Ontario

I am not sure where to start. This has been the longest period between writing about our adventures and I have wanted to log in for over a week now to record it.

So I will go back to the beginning of our vacation which took off in early August flying to Toronto, Ontario. Immediately we arranged our hire car pick up and drove to Guelph, a university city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada.  It was just under an hour’s drive from Toronto Pearson International Airport. Although it was a brief stay overnight to break up our journey to Grand Bend which is approximately three hours away, we found it to be a charming town. There are many heritage buildings and distinctive limestone architecture is evident all over particularly in the downtown area of the city.

Guelph is steeped in history. With a nickname of ‘The Royal City’, according to Wikipedia; [the name Guelph comes from the Italian Guelfo and the Bavarian-Germanic Welf. It is a reference to King George IV, monarch at the time of its founding (who family was a family from the House of Hanover, a younger branch of the House of Welf) and a tongue in cheek reference to the then ascendant population in neighbouring Berlin (Kitchener). (Guelphs being the name given the northern Italian factions who opposed the reign of the Holy Roman Empire].

Guelph is the home to one of Canada’s largest breweries; Sleeman Breweries Ltd. Its headquarters were founded here in 1834. This fact is particularly important as my husband is working his way around the country trying and buying the best of what’s on offer in that department.

We booked into a bed & breakfast called the Norfolk Guest House located at 102 Eramosa Road, Guelph. It is a little pricey at the upmarket end of where B&B’s sit, however we wanted to assure maximum rest and comfort after a long flight and drive. With a glorious plush bed, double Jacuzzi tub and elegant furnishings in a large grand room we were aptly satisfied. On arrival we were greeted to a generous charcuterie and cheese plate with a bottle of red (which was pre-ordered) and we were happy. As a final unwind before hopping into bed, we enjoyed a luxury bath overflowing with bubbles, jets and soft hues of colour from lights under water. Our son found this thoroughly entertaining!

Breakfast was served in an ornate room with high ceilings and decorative fixtures. We were happy with our orders of eggs, french toast and fruit which was lovely. The only disappointment for us was the lack of warmth and hospitality from the host. My preference for bed & breakfast establishments over large chain hotels is always first and foremost for the personal service you expect. The extra touch of a friendly more intimate stay where you are introduced on a first name basis, learn more about where you are staying and the history of the location ensures a pleasant experience overall. Sadly, this was not the case but oddly enough I couldn’t flaw anything else.

Before leaving the town, we visited the Guelph Farmers’ Market located at 2 Gordon Street (corner of Gordon Street and Waterloo Avenue).  The markets are on Saturdays 7:00am to 12:00 noon (Year Round) and Wednesdays 3:00pm to 7:00pm (June 20th to October 31st only).

At 9am it was a hive of activity with locals out in full force and with over fifty vendors, these markets were plentiful; no fear in produce being scarce two hours after opening! Summer fruits were a delight, especially the peaches, watermelon and blueberries. There was a huge variety of vegetables, dairy, meat and specialty foods – we were in heaven.

By 11am it was an extremely hot 31 degrees celsius, so unfortunately we could not indulge in perishables for our long trip and there it was, we departed salivating like Pavlov’s dog.

Guelph appears to have a full calendar of events taking place and we arrived on 4 August which surprisingly was Guelph’s Annual John Galt Day (in celebration of the founder of Guelph). This was held at the City Hall & John Galt Park. While we were enjoying the sounds of the music and entertainment kicking off, we wandered over to the Cornerstone Restaurant/Cafe at 1 Wyndham Street North, Guelph.

Although we stopped in for coffee only, it has a laid back pub-like feel and serves vegetarian food. Breakfast sounded good with options like cornmeal waffles with blueberry compote and I’ve heard the African Bean Stew and the Corner Club sandwich are a reasonably good pick for lunch too. Our coffee was just how I like it, hot and not too strong.  It did the job and picked me up for a good part of the journey to Grand Bend.

We were meeting friends and their family at Grand Bend and staying with them in a cottage. Grand Bend is located on Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes in North America. Lake Huron has a surface area of 23,000 square miles making it the third largest fresh-water lake on Earth.

A Torontonian friend who now resides in Vancouver told us before we left that it was a ‘party town’. I laughed as I thought it couldn’t possibly be when I knew we were visiting friends with their children and families staying in a quaint holiday cottage to have some peaceful beach time. On arrival it did appear that way; quiet, relaxed and beach around the corner which was by no means packed on any occasions we were there. However, I understood what he meant when we took a drive on our way out one afternoon on Main Street and witnessed for myself that this lazy beach town which is populated with a few thousand inhabitants most of the year round, actually increases to approximately 100,000 in the summertime. Whoa was it busy!

We enjoyed a dinner out at the Growlin Gator Bar & Grill – 86 Main Street, Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. With a pumping vibe so close to the main beach, we were lucky to get a good table in the courtyard. With an extensive cocktail and martini list and kid’s menu, which I thought was a good combination – everybody was happy.

Service was friendly, food came quickly and although taste wise it was average, kid’s were happy and that is the most important aspect of going out with multiple families!

The beach was the closest reminder of home with soft white/yellow fine sand, and had familiar bushy green foliage surrounding it and similar outlook to the bay where I would  spend my summer holidays growing up on the south coast of NSW. The water was even warmer than any water we’d experienced in Vancouver.

I had to keep reminding myself that it was a lake not an ocean so each time I would enter, it was a little odd to taste fresh, clear water as opposed to saltwater which I expected.

As a final stop, we visited the Grand Bend Pinery Antique Flea market – 10163 Lakeshore Road, Grand Bend. It is open May through November and was full to the brim with stalls of food, poutine, bric-a-brac, new homewares, toys, antiques and more. Entertainment was very impressive too in the beer garden area. You need to allow at least a couple of hours as these markets are huge.

We had a restful beach holiday with relaxed fun company as you would expect. To finish I think the pictures speak for themselves and although it’s clearly not a hidden secret, I recommend this place to anyone visiting the glorious Lake Huron and seeking out a beach holiday in the Ontario province.

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Easy weekend burritos – child friendly

After our steamy affair with ‘Steam Rollers Burritos’ the other week, I couldn’t stop thinking about the speed in which they delivered it to us and more importantly how delicious it was.

We all enjoyed it, and when I find something outside of my repertoire that our son likes then I must reproduce it somehow! Ok, so I’m not sure about the steaming process but I certainly am going to try to come up with a similar flavour profile!

On a lazy summer weekend, these burritos are fairly easy and great for a late-afternoon/early dinner when you have friends around with children too.

We are virtually flexitarians; those who mostly keep to a vegetarian diet, but will eat meat occasionally, and for this experiment I have used some turkey mince which is a lean addition to what could also be a vegetarian option with the protein packed beans. I chose cannellini because they have a creamier texture (for my son), and black beans for good contrast too.

I don’t think there are any rules for burritos and if there are…well I’m not Mexican! The main goal here is that the whole family enjoy them. I think my burrito wrapping skills leave a bit to be desired though.

Weekend burrito recipe – child friendly (makes 12)

Ingredients

12 soft Tortilla wraps (preferably 12 inch)

450gm turkey mince

1 cup of short grain rice

400gm mixed beans from a can (I used cannellini and black beans) rinsed and drained.

1 cup tomato puree

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon taco seasoning mix

1 green pepper/capsicum (de-seeded) finely chopped and diced

1 brown onion finely chopped and diced.

2 corn cobs, husks and silk removed

2 teaspoon chilli powder

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth

4 Tablespoons sour cream

2 ripe avocados

Zest from 1 lime

2 Tablespoons lime juice

2 cups tasty/cheddar cheese (grated)

Optional extras: 1 cup fresh cilantro/coriander leaves (finely chopped) and Tabasco sauce.

Method

1. Use a small sharp knife to cut down the length of the corn cobs, close to the core, to remove the kernels. Cook corn kernels in a small saucepan of salted boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Refresh under cold water. Drain.

2. In a deep-frying pan, warm oil on medium heat. Cook turkey mince with taco seasoning until browned and set aside in bowl.

3. On a medium to high heat, add onion and peppers to frying pan until soft and add beans, salt, thyme, parsley, chilli, lime zest, turkey mince, stock and tomato puree and stir for 5 minutes to combine. Turn down to a simmer for approximately 25 minutes or until almost all liquid has absorbed. Turn off heat.

4. Cook rice in a saucepan of boiling, salted water, following packet directions, until tender. Drain. Refresh under cold water. Drain and set aside.

5. Meanwhile, mash avocado, adding lime juice and then sour cream.

6. In a big bowl, combine the rice, corn, turkey and bean mix.

7. Warm tortillas in microwave or according to packet instructions (they are easier to wrap this way). With each tortilla, spread a little of the avocado mix and sprinkle with cheese in a rectangular ‘I’ shape leaving the bottom third of the tortilla free.

8. Finally place a couple of tablespoons of the rice mixture on top, with extras like Tabasco and coriander if you like and wrap. (Please note, I find the best way to wrap a burrito is by following the steps below).

9. How to wrap burrito: > Fold the bottom third free flap over > Carefully wrap the left side over the filling > Create a small diagonal flap with the remaining side of the tortilla at a 30-35 degree angle > Bring the right side of the flap over filling tightly and it’s ready to go!

A cocktail or two for ‘the parents’ works well too – Enjoy!

Summer water parks in Vancouver

Finally, bless the sun is out! It’s glorious and it is weather that just makes you want to scream with excitement up to the heavens…after an intense and long cold spring.

My son’s expression is priceless when I ask him which water park would he like to go to today? He is literally a kid in a candy store and he is giving it much thought. I ask “Would you like to go to the water park at Granville Island or Stanley Park?” He replies, “Ummm Stanley Park, no Granville Island!”.

Silently, that was my pick although we’ve been to Stanley Park recently too. Both have quite a bit going for them in terms of surrounding entertainment, so either way you are likely to have a happy and worn out child by the end of it.

Ok, so I’ll start with the Stanley Park option. Stanley Park is close to Downtown, surrounded by beautiful and breathtaking scenery of the ocean, mountains and Lion’s Gate Bridge and more. The park itself is a lush green forest approximately 1000 acres and if it wasn’t such a popular tourist destination you could easily get lost in the half a million trees that are hundreds of years old. Cedar, Hemlock and Douglas Fir trees surround you everywhere you walk. The water park is open from June 1 to September 1 from 10am-6pm.

If I take my son to the Stanley Park spray area, I will pair it with the Aquarium which is only a few minutes away on the north side of the park. With Summer camps in full force by July, you are best to arrive here via public transport and earlier in the day if possible. It is a free attraction which makes it even more alluring. It has a wider area of the soft spongy tarmac covering in some of the play areas making it slightly safer for the younger children.

Between the spray park and the Aquarium, there are many shady spots on the grass to enjoy a picnic lunch. I recommend you bring your own packed goodies. Whatever you do, DO NOT order any of the ‘hot food’ from the Lumberman’s Arch cafe – in my one and only experience, choosing what I thought to be the healthiest options on the menu; how many ways can you go wrong with a salmon burger and fish & chips?? It was overcooked, dripping with oil, tasteless and typically overpriced given the location.  It was a very disappointing experience and it is just about the only place to eat conveniently close by. The food at the Aquarium is better, more palatable and appears to be better quality in some areas of the ‘hot menu’.

So, do you know where I am heading with this? Further to mentioning earlier that Granville Island water park was personally my choice for the day, the options of gourmet food are endless!

Granville Island is the largest free attraction in North America. It is situated right next to the kid’s play area as well incase your child literally gets cold feet (the water is a little chilly still). It is open May 21 through till September 5 from 10am-6pm. All the delectable foods on Granville Island are all close by, minutes walk away. Sushi and gelato always work a treat for my son and I, particularly Gi Gelato & Coffee House did it for me at 1535 Johnson Street, Suite #105 Granville Island. Freshly made creamy flavours including sorbet which I love are fantastic and not expensive.

Say no more, a good day out, a free day out (just about) and we are both happy.

Stanley Park Spray Park – Vancouver Park Board

My hale and hearty kale super summer recipes – Part 3

My husband and I have an exercise routine in the morning that usually consists of running around our sofa ten times to catch my son just to change him when he is waken up…its just a big game to him. Then after breakfast, one of us need to run around the sofa another ten times just to change his nappy/diaper. Let me emphasise that this is before the real activity starts! For example, Saturday mornings involve approximately 20 laps around the sofa, followed by soccer and then swimming. This might put the little guy’s energy at bay for say half the day, but then there is the entire afternoon remaining!

So, sometimes my only remedy is to put my faith in food to deliver abundant energy sources and the addition of a little coffee (as you might have read from an earlier post).

For those days when you need to load up on energy stores or a little comfort in a hearty meal, here is a fiery dish to get your day underway.

The first is inspired by one of the best breakfasts I have had…ooh, going back about sixteen years or 5,840 breakfasts ago! It was in Budapest, Hungary and I was invited to a friend of a friend’s home for breakfast/brunch. It was a typical hungarian spread; crusty bread, scrambled eggs with the flavours of paprika, peppers, salami, tomatoes or should I say lecsó. Lecsó is a hot and spicy dish of tomatoes, peppers, onions, paprika, garlic, sugar, salt and there are many varieties. I was in heaven and this was so exotic compared to anything I had enjoyed for breakfast back home that it made an impression needless to say. It is though rather simple and really hits the spot.

I will just note though, that my breakfast is the ‘healthy version’ as the condition of my arteries is more important to me than it ever was in my early twenties! I have included something called ‘bacon dust’ in my recipe which all credit for this idea goes to Valli Little, Food Director of delicious. magazine again because she is well – AWESOME!

The other recipe is a no fuss canapé for summer entertaining. They are not only beautiful to look at but are light and almost guilt-free. You can prepare them ahead of time and serve them at room temperature or simply re-heat slightly for a crisper texture.

4. Kale lecsó and scrambled eggs (serves 4).

Ingredients

Lecsó (This can be pre-prepared a day or two in advance and warmed up. It is best to add the kale fresh though).

1 bunch kale (stems removed)

2 rashers of bacon with fat removed and cut into small pieces

1/2 small brown onion sliced

1-2 peppers (yellow and orange) sliced finely

2 ripe roma tomatoes finely chopped

3 tablespoons of tomato puree

1 garlic clove crushed

2.5 teaspoons of sweet paprika

1 teaspoon of sugar

4 pinches of salt

1 tablespoon of water

Scrambled eggs

6 large eggs

2 rashers of bacon

1/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon butter

Sourdough bread

olive oil

Method

1. Wash kale and leave to soak in warm water with some lemon juice. After 10 minutes remove and dry.

2. Add bacon to frying pan for a few minutes to soften on medium heat. Add onions and peppers for 15 minutes on low heat.

3. Add chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, garlic sugar, salt, paprika and cook over medium heat until peppers are soft and tender. Add a the water if a little dry before peppers are soft.

4. Add kale leaves to frying pan to soften for a few minutes, remove from heat and set aside.

Scrambled eggs

1. Place two rashers of bacon in frying pan on medium heat until crispy. Dry on paper towel to remove all moisture.

2. Place bacon in food processor until it resembles a fine consistency or dust.

3. Crack six eggs into a bowl and whisk lightly adding milk half way through.

4. Place butter into clean frying pan on low-medium heat.

5. Add eggs to pan and start with a wooden spatula, gently push outside edges into centre   until you start to see eggs looking creamy and thickening (approx 3 minutes). In the last minute, break up carefully and remove from heat.

6. Serve eggs with sprinkled bacon dust on top, kale lecsó on the side with lightly toasted sourdough bread. Drizzle some good quality extra virgin olive oil on warm lecsó.

5. Potato and kale nests with smoked salmon  (makes 24).

Ingredients

250gm white or yukon gold (starchy varieties) potatoes peeled

12 leaves of kale

1 egg

40gm butter, melted and cooled.

1/3 cup good quality mayonnaise (I use an organic whole egg variety)

1/3 cup light/fat free sour cream

2 tablespoons fresh dill

150gm cold smoked (lox) sockeye salmon

half lemon

sea salt and cracked black pepper

olive oil spray

dill fronds or coriander leaves to garnish

Method

1. Preheat oven to 390F/200C. Lightly grease a 24 capacity mini muffin tray with olive oil spray.

2. Using a mandolin, thinly slice potatoes (please watch fingers!) and then finely cut small matchstick size; about 4mm thick and 6-7cm in length. They certainly don’t need to be perfect match sticks, I just stack my slices and then cut lengthways into the strips.

3. Chiffonade the washed kale leaves and blanch them in almost boiled water for 15 seconds and then place in cold water, drain and dry with paper towel.

4. Place in a large bowl the egg, butter, potato and combine well adding some salt and pepper to taste. Add kale at end.

5. Press approximately a tablespoon into muffin tin to create a nest and bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool.

6. Combine sour cream, mayonnaise and chopped dill in a bowl. Squeeze juice of half a lemon over salmon.

7. Spoon a small amount onto nests and top with smoked salmon. Garnish with coriander leaves or dill fronds.

Enjoy!

My hale and hearty kale super summer recipes – Part 2

3. Recovery kale summer salad two ways (serves 4-6). This salad is designed to be either a wholesome side dish or meal on its own…its entirely up to you. It presents well with popping colour and therefore is a good choice for those summer barbecues with family and friends. Summertime for me means lots of fresh delicious food, most often in their raw form. Some of my favourite foods to use in salads when the warmer months arrive are macadamias (first discovered in Australia), mango and of course lots of greens!  This salad has a touch of home/Australia and a little Canadian maple syrup in it, but mostly is a superb energy booster and even more power packed if you include the addition of a barbecued protein like fish, chicken or steak. With kale being the hero, either way this salad makes you feel really good…  especially if you’ve had a particularly long draining week; with children or at work!

I felt this recipe needed a page of is own with all is wonderful goodness and I’ll start by explaining the ‘two ways’ to make this salad to your taste.

Terra Way – For barbecued poultry or red meat, I prefer my pine nuts and potato balls option. An example of this is pictured below.

Oceania Way – For barbecued fish like tuna or a firm white fish, I prefer mango and macadamias.

Ingredients – Base salad

1 bunch of kale

1 cup of quinoa

2 1/4 cups of water

1 capsicum finely sliced strips cut in half

6 shallots (finely sliced)

1-2 teaspoons of lemon thyme

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

5-6 tablespoons of extra virgin fruity olive oil (cold-pressed)

salt and black pepper

Method
1. Wash the kale as per my tip in my kale recipes part 1. Chiffonade all washed leaves (fine strips or ribbons by rolling up), and put aside in a large bowl.
2. Bring the two cups of water to the boil in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, rinse the cup of quinoa in a fine mesh colander. Place into boiling water and turn heat down to medium with lid on top. Cook for 12-15 minutes until cooked and transparent and let cool.
3. For the dressing, mix the maple syrup, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar with a whisk in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil to thicken and add the shallots and lemon thyme. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
4. Mix dressing through the kale and then toss capsicum and quinoa in there.
Option – Macadamia and Mango
2 mangoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup raw unsalted macadamia nuts, crushed
Gently toss through salad and serve.
Option – Pine nuts and potato balls
I was inspired by Valli Little the Food Editor I used to work with on delicious. magazine who  produced these hot fried mozzarella balls in a salad a few years ago. I don’t want too much cheese in my salad, but still want a creamy addition so here is my addition.
3/4 cup pine nuts
2 cups cold mashed potatoes
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons grape seed oil for frying
1. Place mashed potatoes in a large bowl and ensure they are room temperature when ready to work with them (approximately 20 mins).
2. Mix the egg, cheese and potato together and shape into small balls. Roll in breadcrumbs to coat them fully.
3. In a wok or deep-frying pan, heat oil at high temperature and then fry a few balls at a time for three or four minutes until golden brown.
4. Handle carefully and place on paper towel to drain.
5. Gently place balls and sprinkle pine nuts on salad and serve.
I really hope you love this as much as I do, but the sky is the limit with the substitutes you can use in the salad to give it that summer kick. Think avocados, almonds, apple and more to create your own – Enjoy!

My hale and hearty kale super summer recipes – Part 1

Ok, so I’m ready to glow for Summer! With the support of my loving husband who has seen much green fly around this kitchen lately, he might actually think I have gone Kale Krazy, but I have a result which will benefit all of us. I am going to publish them in stages, otherwise there might be some kale backlash in our household! You could prepare a couple of these recipes over the course of the week to ensure you are topped up with your recommended dose of greens!

Tip: How to shop for and prepare kale. Always look for rich deep bluish-green leaves, never yellow or with holes in them. There are many different shapes and varieties out there. The younger or smaller leaves taste better. You can consume the stems, however in some recipes the texture is better to remove them. Never store in fridge pre-washed, wash as you use it. It is preferable to eat within 2-3 days of buying however 5 days is usually fine. To wash, fill up a bowl or your salad spinner with warm water and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or another acid based product like apple-cider vinegar and leave for 5-10 minutes then rinse. To discard tough stems, cut out in a V shape style.

1. Kale smoothie (serves 2). This is a perfect pick me up or breakfast on the go, its delicious and filling as well. You can substitute dairy for non-dairy ingredients too. If you want to make this for children, it is better to use the dark berries that hide the kale, and exclude the flax seeds. Oh and one tip, check teeth immediately afterwards!

Ingredients – Two options (one is non-dairy and the other dairy)

1 cup coconut milk / 1 cup of organic milk

1 banana frozen chopped

3-4 Kale leaves chopped (must strip leaves, remove stems and wash well). I also prefer using a non-curly variety for this one.

1/2 cup packed mixed blackberries and blueberries (or any combination; raspberries, strawberries etc).

1/3 cup coconut yoghurt / organic plain yoghurt optional

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup to taste

2-3 teaspoons of flaxseed

Method 

1. Blend all ingredients together in food processor or powerful blender

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2. Crunchy kale pesto (serves 6 portions approx). I have to make this every week as my toddler loves it! He thinks he is eating ‘green caterpillars’ as I add them to spiral pasta. It is dairy free so you can add shaved parmesan afterwards if you like that extra rich flavour. We all enjoy this family favourite and I feel good knowing my son has stuffed himself with green goodness.

Ingredients

2 1/3 cups kale or 1 big bunch of kale (choose any variety or a combination).

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1/4 cup pine nuts

Lemon zest from half a lemon

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 small cloves garlic crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 C / 350 F. Once hot, place sunflower seeds and pine nuts on a tray and roast for 3-5 minutes and remove.

2. Chop kale and use leaves only which have been separated from the stem. Cut in a crosswise direction, roughly chopped. You do not need to pre-wash with this recipe.

3. Fill a bowl with iced water. In a saucepan of boiling water, blanch kale for one minute only and then drain and place directly into iced water. Once cooled, drain and dry kale with paper towel.

4. Add half of the kale, half the pine nuts and sunflower seeds, lemon juice, zest, garlic, sugar, salt and half the olive oil to a food processor to finely mix. Once mixed through, add remaining ingredients and process again

5. Add remaining oil, sunflower seeds, pine nuts and process again until fine throughout.

Note: Variations can include substituting half a cup of kale for half a cup of fresh oregano leaves which is wonderful too!

Serving suggestion:- Spiral pasta mixed through pesto with cracked black pepper and more lemon as desired.

Presto! Perfect crunchy pesto ready to eat; can be mixed through pastas, spread on bread toasted bruschetta style with roasted tomatoes, as a side with breakfast or brunch recipes. Store in refrigerator for 3-5 days.

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Ok, so back to the kitchen with my kale to work on the next few…Enjoy!