I Love Me Some Sweet Potato!

The wonderfully hearty fall vegetables are here—potatoes, winter squashes, brussel sprouts, broccoli and, of course, let’s not forget the sweet potato. Commonly referred to as yams in North America, this naturally sweet-tasting vegetable is easy to grow, inexpensive, delicious and has huge health benefits.

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Is there a difference between a sweet potato and a yam? Not in North America—a yam is a version of the sweet potato, and the name is interchangeable. Many countries call it a different name. When I lived in New Zealand, the sweet potato was referred to as the kumara in Maori, the language of the native Polynesian people of New Zealand.

I once worked on a farm while backpacking downunder—my job was to pick and pack this royal vegetable. These large vegetables would be up-rooted with a tractor, dried in the sun, and then, hunched over the hill, I would pick and pack them into a basket, dragging it along until I filled it, and then start on the next row. After long hot days, you’d think I would never want to see another sweet potato, but you’d be wrong, these are one of my favorite vegetables to cook and eat.

Sweet Potatoes are a reliable crop, and grow well in a variety of farming conditions. While sensitive to frost, many continue growing even after frost has killed the vines and leaves. Ideally they should be harvested 90–100 days after planting or whenever they reach a medium size and the leaves start to turn yellow. They have few natural enemies, and when cured properly can be stored up to thirteen months after harvesting. This edible tuberous root is long and tapered, with a smooth skin whose color ranges between yellow, orange, red, brown, purple and beige. The sweet potato flesh can be beige through to white, red, pink, violet, yellow, orange, and purple, depending on the skin color. If not growing your own, be sure to purchase firm, medium-sized sweet potatoes without any cracks, bruises or soft spots.

Whether you are trying to cut carbs and lose weight or bulk up and build muscle, these fibre-rich root vegetables are packing a nutritional powerhouse of vitamins.

Website, Sweetpotato.com claims the benefits of this vegetable are the following:

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Sweet potatoes are high in Beta Carotene and vitamins E and C;

Sweet potatoes are a good source of fibre when eaten with the skin on;

Sweet potatoes offer other nutrients such as potassium, iron and vitamin B-6;

Sweet potatoes are an excellent way to eat healthy. They are fat-free and cholesterol-free;

Sweet potatoes have unique health benefits. They are loaded with vitamins A, C and E, which are antioxidants that may even help prevent heart disease and cancer, bolster the immune system and even slow aging by promoting good vision and healthy skin.  They are anti-inflammatory and can protect against emphysema;

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of copper, magnesium, potassium, iron and vitamin B-6.

These vitamins play an important role in our overall health and wellbeing.

Vitamin C is helpful in warding off cold and flu viruses and plays an important role in bone and tooth formation, digestion and blood cell formation.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that may protect against heart disease.

Potassium is a mineral necessary for muscle contraction, nerve transmission, bone health, water balance and normal blood pressure.

These vegetables are sweet-tasting, but their natural sugars are slowly released into the blood stream, helping to ensure a balanced and regular source of energy, without the blood sugar spikes linked to fatigue and weight gain.

I love how versatile they are to cook and use in a variety of dishes. Winter is approaching, and I like to load up on sweet potatoes given that they pair well with warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger, chili and many others.

There are so many fun ways to cook them. Try them roasted, pureed, steamed, baked or grilled. Add them to soups and stews, or grill and place on top of leafy greens for a delicious salad. Grill them with onions and red peppers for amazing sandwich or wrap ingredients. Puree and add them to smoothies and baked goods. They are an excellent accompaniment to poultry, pork, beef, lamb or seafood.  They can also be substituted in virtually any recipe that calls for apples, squash or white potatoes. Basically, there is not much that doesn’t benefit from a sweet potato, and it’s good for you too.

If you have a restaurant or foodie biz suggestion email me at ladydinesalot@gmail.com, follow my blog at LadydinesAlot.com or on Facebook and Twitter.

Magic Moments at Musiikki Cafe

EMC Heritage Weekly Column- Up in My Grill
The saxophone and piano filters through the air, and the guy at the bar is taking requests for the kind of jazz I want to listen to. It’s a Tuesday lunch-time vibe at the Musiikki Café. A place that, even at lunch, inspires you to want to curl up with a single malt and listen, although I settle for a dark roast coffee and a cookie.

Musikki Cafe

Musikki Cafe

The Musiikki Café is more than a café; it is a setting for serendipitous moments, fresh and intrusive. It’s where creative stimulation exists and (as their coffee mugs read) it’s good for you.

The café has carved out a creative spot where you can enjoy live music, whisky and coffee.

Speaking of good for you, the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, while my lunch choice, aren’t the only option available; you can also enjoy quick sandwiches, wraps or a muffin with your coffee.

Owner Kris Clendining and I met earlier this month, after I stumbled on the little spot cut into the limestone, at 73 Brock Street, beside Atomica Gourmet Pizza and Wine Bar.

Owner, Kris Clendining

Owner, Kris Clendining

The Musiikki Café arose from a long passion Kris had for music and a venue to bring that to life. The location needed a lot of repairs. Thankfully, Kris is an experienced carpenter, and several friends helped support his new venture.

“A huge thanks goes to the people that helped, especially my friend, Geoff, who was our electrician and a great help in the renovation process,” said Kris. “It was a lot of work, restoring the building and we still have more to do, but if it wasn’t for good friends we’d never have gotten done what we did in five months, and now here we are nine weeks since we opened the doors, with nine staff; it’s crazy.”

“We’ve been changing things and doing things differently since opening. I wanted this to be a place for good live music,” said Kris. “It attracts the artist and musical community, for sure. It’s where our heads are at with what we are doing here. But, we get all ages—anyone from students to customers up into there 80’s and everyone in between.”

“It’s where the magical little moments happen,” said a staff member.

“For instance, soon after opening, we were a venue for Downtown Kingston’s Bluesfest. We have this huge outdoor garden stage, so we were a perfect location,” said Kris.

I told him he was crazy to have done this just after opening. He laughed.

“It was a huge learning curve, with over five hundred people through the doors weeks after opening—we learned a lot. It was great until it started to rain, something shut off, in the middle of the concert, it was a panic, but the musicians were great about it. We threw out some candles, and the musicians played in the dark.”

A magic moment.

“The evenings are more popular, given live music kicks off at 8 p.m. and runs til 11 p.m.,” said Kris “We are trying to program music from Monday through Sunday, but at this stage it’s Tuesday through Saturday. We are working on our website with the hope of having a sign up area for bands.”

The Café takes on a different vibe depending on what music is playing, and that could be anything: folk, blues, jazz.

“We want to keep it as diverse as possible; it needs to fit our atmosphere. Although, I won’t be surprised if we start adding a DJ at some point, too,” said Kris. “But, it will depend on the needs of our customers and what feels right. It’s all about the music.”

Musiikki also features over twenty-five brands of whisky, including Irish whiskey and Scottish whisky, and a Japanese Nikka Taketsuru, a 17 year old blend, which even with a head cold, I could smell its toasted biscuit tones, and a rare Sullivans Cove whisky from Tasmania.

The main floor of the café seats twenty, almost thirty in the large outdoor garden and stage under the canopy of an old tree. In the winter, heaters are added.

“In the next while, we hope to also open up the top floor when its finished being renovated, for an additional 30 seats,” said Kris. “My manager, Ryan is interested and passionate about good coffee, as a serious barista. It’s also important to us. We purchase our beans from a roaster in Picton.

“Ultimately, we want people to know that Musiikki Café has a good music scene and we have great whisky and coffee.”

Musiikki Café is open Sunday – Thursday 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 a.m. and Friday/Saturday 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 a.m. For show information, follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you have a foodie biz or restaurant suggestion email me at ladydinesealot@gmail.com, follow me on Facebook or my blog Ladydinesalot.com.

Food Brings People Together

Up In My Grill weekly column in the EMC Kingston Heritage and Frontenac Gazette
By Kate Kristiansen

Breaking bread, drowning it in gravy, slopping it up with turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce—the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us—the changing season, colored leaves, family and the friends. I relish this time of year, yet I seriously thought about cancelling Thanksgiving dinner.

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It’s a lot of work—preparation, planning and cooking, and it’s costly no matter how much you enjoy it. My husband laughs when I finish serving the masses and proclaim that next year maybe we will keep it small, just a few of us, intimate. He knows deep down I love it. Nothing makes me happier than feeding those I love. The full house, guests sated, laughter and conversation in every room. However this year, I wasn’t sure I had an ounce of thankfulness left.

We’ve all been there. Tough times can shrivel the heart muscle. Exhausted and bereft of gratitude, I cancelled Thanksgiving dinner.

Last year, my house was packed with family and friends, and I was looking at a looming surgery myself. I was scared and nervous for my family. While I didn’t share it with them, I wanted it to be a chance for us to be together, in case it was my last holiday feast. I invited my divorced parents, their extended families, my friends, cousins and more for a huge gathering. I felt comfortable in the knowledge that I had created a unique circle of little connections and healing. Food brings people together.

It’s odd how much things can change in a moment, in a year.

Weeks later my mother was diagnosed with cancer. That evil word spread darkness through our lives for months. It was the start of months of appointments, surgery, the recovery, and finally a chance for her to ring the bell that cancer treatment (could and may even be) behind us. At the same time, my father spent weeks in and out of hospital and, sadly, succumbed and passed away the day after Mother’s Day.

Life sucked—and just when it looked like it couldn’t get much worse, my best friend was diagnosed with cancer. Her surgery date is this week. Normal conflict in life shouldn’t look like this, and yet many of us face these struggles. I know countless many who have lost loved ones this year, are worried for sick children and ailing parents. Life is not fair. The weight of these challenges seems frightfully raw.

So, I declared Thanksgiving dinner was off. No way was I in any way prepared to open my house, my heart or spread goodwill to anyone. My friend needed me and that was that…until I got the news. A friend waiting for years for a liver donor was booked for surgery. I can’t explain the tears of happiness, joy and relief I felt for her and her family. My year of tragedy somehow didn’t seem to matter. Her years of waiting and pain were about to be healed. It was a reminder that we share painful times and challenges, but mine paled in comparison to just how fragile human life is.

A door had sprung open and I found myself being spirited on by a renewed faith in the good that can come, and will come. It was almost as if I had spent the year living on a hill, like the Grinch, locking myself away, and suddenly little Cindy Lou broke open my shrinking heart. My friend, a mother is getting the chance she so deserves to live a full and happy life with her children.

We never know what the future holds or where life will take us. All we have is the present moment.

“Food brings people together. It’s nourishment of the soul and body; it’s truly love,” said author, Giada de Laurentiis.

Thanksgiving dinner is back on.

Food is a universal language. It connects. Simply by preparing it and eating it we can forget for a time and just be. I couldn’t let an opportunity go by without us celebrating together.

My house will be full with the smell of roasting turkey, stuffing, seasonal vegetables from the harvest, gravy bubbling away on the stove and sweet pies filled with apples, peaches and pumpkin. My family and friends and their children will fill the seats at the tables; we will eat until we bust wide open. Some will not be with us. I will take a plate of food to my friend in hospital, or if we are so blessed she will be there too.

Because the reality is, even if it’s simply a piece of bread, we should break it apart, forgive and enjoy each moment. #Bethankful.

If you have a foodie biz or restaurant suggestion please send me an email at ladydinesalot@gmail.com, or follow me on Facebook, or my blog LadyDinesAlot.com.

Kingston WritersFest and gasp – chocolate orgasm cakes

Hi Lindy:

I was at the Kingston Dinner Club too. The festival was so much fun. Your chocolate orgasm cakes look delicious!

♥ love in the kitchen ♥

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Last week was Kingston WritersFest – an epic literary affair for readers and writers held annually in late September. The event has become one of the premier writers festivals in Canada and one that changes the cultural landscape of the small town of Kingston.

Since 2009 when Kingston WritersFest began in earnest – it has attracted a huge variety of writers and readers from all over the world. The headline acts have included Margaret Atwood, Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth), Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient), Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee, Paul Auster, Joyce Carol Oates, and this year, Wally Lamb. Equally importantly, hundreds of other authors writing on every conceivable subject have graced the platforms of WritersFest – reading, teaching writing classes, and engaging in thousands of important literary conversations, both on and off stage.

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