Blue Monday. Soup It Forward.

Bye, bye January. Go away, gray cloudy frosty days and leave me warm mugs of soup!

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In a nonsensical formula, someone came up with the idea to name the third Monday in January, Blue Monday —the bluest, most depressing day of the year.

Yeah right? Who are they kidding? Every day in January requires sheer effort to get dressed and venture outside.

I wrangle the dogs for walks, but the truth is they’d rather not leave their comfortable spot by the wood burning fire. One wriggling further into the blankets, the other spins up onto his back, legs straight in the air, tongue drooped to its side with a…”maybe-she’ll-think-I’m-dead, not a chance I am going out in this,” expression. Perking up only when I retreat to the kitchen.

Nothing beats the winter blues of January than comfort food. Melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, and caramel coffee cake, fresh baked cookies making a kitchen warm and inviting. But, nothing quite heats up a kitchen than a slow cooking soup.

The magic of soup has long been a cure for the common cold and a heart-warming pleasure on a cold day. Soup means friendship. It lift’s a melancholy mood like a warm hug. The intoxicating, soupy smell wafts through the house, bubbling away on the stove and settling in our bones while filling our bellies.

The dogs sit wide-eyed on their mats by the stove, hopeful of something dropping to the floor as I chop and dice away. I pat the meat; add butter to the pan, tossing about fresh sprigs of herbs, garlic, a squeeze of orange ensuring the right balance for a flavor-packed broth. (bones vs. meat! Salt vs.. No salt.) Chefs have long argued the difference between broth and stock?

Soup recipes have evolved and moved from country to country, like the timeless chicken noodle, which I make with a whole chicken (a recipe passed down to me in New Zealand, by my Faroese friend, who got it from her Austrian mother-in-law.) Soup is transient, and while it tastes similar, it often takes on different forms given the place it originated.

“Is there anything more comforting than a warm bowl of soup?” That’s what Sharon Hapton thought when searching for a way to give back to the community, and found the inspiration to start Soup Sisters. She had seen the results of gifting a bowl of soup and its profound comfort during difficult times. In 2009, she founded Soup Sisters a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to providing comfort to women and children in need through the making, sharing and donating of soup to domestic abuse shelters.

Soup Sisters has twelve chapters across Canada. This organization sparked not only a movement, but also a cookbook filled with one hundred cherished recipes from chefs and home cooks entitled The Soup Sisters Cookbook. A collective melting pot of soup recipes fro across the globe, it has pride and place on my shelf.

Each recipe arranged by season, and there are also pantry and fridge-stocking tips, illustrative guides for soup preparation and recipes for homemade stocks. Soup leftovers are perfect for freezing, but in true Soup Sister form they encourage you to enjoy a bowl and pass one along to a friend.

Eva’s Heritage Borscht soup contributed by Karen Anderson, and it’s one of my time-tested fav’s. I made this for my friend when she came home from the hospital. I lovingly boiled the pork side ribs, removing the tender meat from its bone, prepped the beats, carrots, onions, green beans, cabbage, tomato juice and vinegar—fusing together all the flavors in one perfect bowl of soup. Add a swirl of sour cream and sprinkle with fresh dill for a satisfying meal on a winter day.

The cookbook includes French onion layered in cheese, a Budapest Night Owl with Hungarian paprika, sweet garlic and ‘sunchoke’, which features Jerusalem artichokes, along with the squash, pear and parsnip with ginger soup. Hopefully by the time you get finished the winter soup suggestions, spring will be here in full bloom.

Until then, wrap up warm on those dreary days and serve up soup for the family, friend or neighbor. Nothing changes a blue day sunny like a bowl of hot steamy soup.

To learn more about Soup Sisters visit http://www.soupsisters.org or email info@soupsisters.org. With every sale of this cookbook, a much-needed bowl of soup will find its way to someone in need.

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

A Not So Ordinary Holiday

By Kate Kristiansen

If you only knew, the story behind most photos would it appear as picture perfect? Our Christmas Day photo, next to the sparkling tree hid the frosty fueled craziness before dinner.

For many reasons, I wanted this year to end on a good note. 2014 kicked my butt.

For twenty years, we’ve celebrated with an annual gathering at Christmas, which has since grown with friends and family traveling great distances to begin the season at our house. There is carol singing, nibbles to nosh on —a memory we cherish. The truth is those occasions take a lot of work to make “picture perfect”. The groan of people who hate to sing, the endless hours of food prep, tree decorating and the general hustle we all feel at this time. This year the decorating and planning came to a halt when we got the call that hubby had to work over Christmas. Hubby works away most of the year and is on a project with a tight deadline in California. He would be working through the stats, but there was no way we would not be together at Christmas. Family means no one gets left behind. We planned to spend what time he had to enjoy those moments. So the tree we were waiting to decorate until he got home remained empty this season. Friends had to make new traditions of their own; the Kristiansen’s packed up and flew to California for the holidays.

Hubby arranged a real Christmas tree for our arrival. The plumped up version of a “Charlie Brown tree” its green limbs sprouting plastic balls lite up the hotel room we’d be sharing for the holidays. It was different to the beautiful balsam pine that typically stands in the center of our home filled with the collection of old ornaments from the years. We expressed gratitude that we had a tree and were together. The stockings from home, we strung along the desk in the corner of the room, and we sang from the song sheets loud and out of tune just like every other year.

The hotel was full. It was different sharing our holidays with strangers. Some were taking time out to check out Disney, or visiting family nearby, and others with extraordinary circumstances. Some, the insurance companies had relocated to the hotel while their homes were being fixed due to flooding. A great reminder of how lucky we were. The staff was warm and generous in spirit making us all feel at home.

The reality is that nothing is ever perfect. Those cheery Facebook updates hide the messy dysfunction called life. The mask slips, every other version of ourselves revealed in the love of a family.

Christmas Day hubby had to work. My daughter and I slept in, had a relaxing day and casually dressed for our Christmas Day booking at London, Gordon Ramsey’s West Hollywood restaurant. It was a treat for someone else to cook, and do the clean up— it promised to be a superb ending to the year.

We dressed in anticipation, Dad rushed in dirty and tired from his early morning working day, but we all were excited about the meal that lay ahead. Washed, dressed and fully primped, as perfect and superficial as Hollywood implies— we were ready. However, deep down the disappointment of Christmas far from home hovered in the air.

The car ride frightfully unraveled the dynamics of a Christmas lost and a different holiday memory we were about to create. The struggle fueled by hubby’s pokes at my LA driving, our daughter’s music requests from the back seat, and the continue prattle on about work craziness. A typical family conversation wherever you are. (At least in my family.)

We parked the car through squabbles and walked through the grand white and gold marble hallways of the hotel to the bustling restaurant. We should have been gleaming with happiness, but we could hardly string a sentence together by the time, we stood in front of the Maître d’ who ushered us to our table.

The London offers Gordon Ramsey cuisine re-interpreted by Executive Chef Anthony into California lifestyle. The restaurant offers five private salons and a cocktail bar elegantly central.

Our table was fit for six people, a white leather sofa for four along one side and two deep bucket seats, another reminder of just how small our party was this year. A view of the entire restaurant and the LA skyline speckled with lights, I was certain that everyone in the room could see the tension from our little family as we sat silently reading the menu. Hubby had left his cell phone in the car after being scolded by our daughter for talking about work on Christmas Day. I could see his mind and fingers twitching from an email he had received minutes before we parked the car. Like most people we have a rule, leave work at work. At times, a difficult practice for us all.

A set three-course menu featuring traditional British fair souped up for the holidays helped us unravel our bitterness and warm our hearts.

We started with chestnut soup with a duck confit (a salty, sweet soup I am still dreaming about), creamy squash risotto, and fresh green salad. The mains a pesto encrusted salmon, tender beef filet and a seared duck breast. All were melt in your mouth and beyond extraordinary. Food brings people together. We shed off our frantic arrival, sunk ourselves into each bite, oozing over the flavors and relished the time together. The large sofa proved useful as we leaned back, full and sated after desert of apple tartin with fennel ice cream and sticky date pudding. Great too for scanning the room — full of families, friends and those, perhaps in even strangers joined together on this day to share a meal. My daughter proclaimed it was the best meal she had ever had, with the perfect portions, tastes, and ambiance.

In reality, while it took us a moment to remember to be appreciative, (something we aren’t proud of) it was together breaking bread as a family that was the best part. The over-priced dining experience while a bonus was not a replacement to what each of us brings to the table. These times include weird, wacky stories, heated arguments and joyous laughter, food and memories made —some simple and others not so ordinary wherever we are. Picture perfect? Never.

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

For the Love of Chestnuts!

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Chestnuts roasting by the open fire commonly spark thoughts of the holiday season. These smooth red-brown edible nuts taste good and are packed with healthy benefits.

Since a young girl, my friend Helen eats these as a snack year round—nibbling away on bags of fresh and sometimes roasted ones. She loves to crack the hard chewy shell, eating the creamy white fleshy goodness inside.

Given their nutrition value these morsels are hailed as a symbol of longevity and fertility by many North American nomads. Chestnuts drop from their deciduous trees in the fall, so are also a sign of harvest and abundance. Many other cultures have also valued their health benefits, China, Korea, Japan and the Mediterranean. Greeks deem that the chestnut is superior to the almond, hazelnut, and walnut. (My friend, Helen is Greek, and she would agree, through mouthfuls of these delicious bite-sized nuts that they are far superior.)

Unlike other nuts, chestnuts are low in fat and high in starch content. The fibre content of a chestnut is 3.1 g per 100 grams. Their high fiber content makes them a low glycemic index food, one that raises blood sugar slowly. Chestnuts are high in vitamin C, minerals, such as potassium, copper and magnesium, amino acids and antioxidants. They also provide 195 calories per 100 g serving, mostly coming from their carbohydrate content, according to Livestrong.com.

They can be crumbly in texture; mild and sweet to taste, and eaten boiled or roasted. I enjoy them in my annual holiday stuffing, and have seen them in soups, and ground down to flour for baking. In addition, they are high in essential fatty acids and the best part they do not have gluten (the binding protein in grain which can upset the small intestine.)

Many grocery stores sell chestnuts throughout the winter or find them canned and bottled. When buying chestnuts look for smooth, shiny shells, which do not rattle inside their hull. Store in a cool, dry place, and after hulling keep refrigerated.

The classic way to eat them is by roasting. Slice a thin line in the hull, so they do split or burst in the oven or fire. Roast in a pan for approximately 25 minutes, until the hulls become darker. Do not eat, until they are cool despite how scrummy they smell.

Chestnuts act as a tonic for muscles, nerves, and veins. To treat, it is advisable to eat for a few weeks. Edible chestnut leaves are recommended as a sedative on respiratory organs and can aid in treating bronchitis.

Raw chestnut can be unsafe and poisonous, only eat sweet edible chestnuts found in spiky pods, not Horse Chestnuts. Find the good ones, roast or boil them up and eat them like candy. Share and enjoy!

Happy Holidays.

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

 

Holiday Gift Ideas for Foodies

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The warm glow of downtown shop windows, dressed for the holidays, and the fresh fallen snow helps fuel the spirit of the season. These little windows lure me in searching for the perfect gift for loved ones.

Hubby claims I am one of the hardest people to gift too. He refuses to believe me when I tell him the card means the most—the chosen words scribed inside, is the greatest gift. He knows this gesture counts just as much as the gift. (This doesn’t mean, complete it seconds before you stuff the card in an envelope and hand it me—especially when I can see you.)

Admittedly while it’s the thought that counts, he does get the gift giving part wrong more often than not. For example, one of the first gifts he ever bought me was a mini-mag-lite flashlight. My face must have given me away, cause when I opened it he quickly blurted out: “It’s pewter?” I don’t wear much jewelry, but a gal gets her hopes up when a carefully wrapped package is in a long thin black box. I was backpacking at the time, so his thought process was in line, and in truth, it was, and is what I needed. It’s these little gestures that keep me smiling year after year.

I know friends who work at it really hard, scouring the shelves, in search of the one thing that will bring a jolly sparkle to their partner’s eyes. I’m that half: I love this time of the year, and relish locating the perfect gift. Neither are into big overly priced items although in an effort to get it right hubby has on occasion thrown a lot of money at the gift-giving thing. I can always tell when he has had help from a well-meaning colleague or our teenage daughter.

Stick to the card, I tell him. But, for when he insists….

Here are my holiday picks for any culinary adventurous friends:

  1. Gift Certificate to any of my favorite restaurants. There should be no doubt that it will get used for long lunches and lazy dinners. If you need helpful suggestions – read my column.
  2. Vintage Cake Slice from P’Lovers Store – 123 Princess Street, Kingston
    Each uniquely designed with different sayings engraved into the pewter. I bought one for a friend it reads: Slice of Love.
  3. From the Farm Cooking School gift certificate – Prince Edward County
    Learn culinary techniques from Chef and Food Writer, Cynthia Peters in an old 1830’s farmhouse in Prince Edward County. To purchase a gift certificate and for more information visit www.fromthefarm.ca.
  4. Kingston Olive Oil Company– 62 Brock Street, Kingston
    I currently have five empty bottles (they recycle used bottles) on my countertop, of these delicious extra virgin olive oils. The store features hundreds of choice along with balsamic vinegars, salts, and spices. My go to is the Picual infused olive oil and Lavender balsamic vinegar.
  5. Salted Caper Berries, Pan Chancho – 123 Princess Street, Kingston
    One thing every foodie needs in their kitchen, but their are other great tasty finds to purchase like creamy brie cheese, breads and more.
  6. Trays of squares, tarts, and cookies – Cards Bakery – 304 Bagot Street, Kingston
    The gift of fresh baking (that someone else baked), icing on the cake! It takes loads of time off the already busy holiday schedule. Face it most foodies having been baking since Thanksgiving. This gift will always be welcomed, and devoured.
  7. Cookbook – Novel Idea – 156 Princess Street, Kingston
    Foodies never have too many cookbooks, even when they rarely use recipes. They get us cracking, stirring and brewing from street food, buying local, and simple beautifully written books with loads of scrumptious pictures. If you get stuck, pick up the Chez Piggy or Curry Original cookbooks.
  8. Cooke’s Fine Foods – 2395 Princess Street, Kingston
    Simply walking inside lights me up with its fresh smell of coffee. I love visiting for gifts any time of the year. Pretty much anything from their coffee to saffron, smoked paprika spices, gift baskets, and dark chocolate are a win.
  9. Limestone Creamery Organic Egg Nog – Tara Foods, Pan Chancho or visit the Limestone Organic Creamery, 3113 Sydenham Rd, Elginburg
    Limited to the season, grab as much as you can of this creamy treat. Fix your foodie a drink of eggnog dusted with nutmeg, cinnamon, and they’ll be yours forever.
  10. Wine Glasses – every foodie loves needlessly large wine glasses or funky twisted ones that never fall over for long conversations over the table. By year-end, one is always in need of a new set—loads of belly laughs, high fives, and tearful resolutions are in a glass of wine. Choose a local Prince Edward County Wine to pair with it, or grab a set of white and red glasses. (Yes, there are different kinds.)

If you purchase anything from four through to ten, give me a call, and I’d gladly use my mini-mag-lit flashlight to find my way to your house this holiday season.

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

Niche to Mainstream? Fourth Annual Local Food Conference

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EMC Heritage: Local food is a powerful source in our agri-food system, yet not all local food shoppers are buying the same. Kingston hosted the Fourth Annual Local Food Conference— where local food business owners, producers, distributors and those passionate about local food explored the topic of creating space in a crowded market or staying niche.

The two-day conference on November 24 and 25 presented by Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), in partnership with Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO), launched with a tour of local business. Attendees visited MacKinnon Brothers Brewery Company, Patchwork Gardens and Farm Boy, where a representative discussed ways of getting local products into the store.

What is local? Some describe anything within a 50 or 100-kilometre radius as local; others include anything grown in Ontario or made in Canada as local. What was clear was that foodies want what they want, and business owners you can’t afford to ignore them. Buying local is not a trend that is going to disappear.

“Local food gives people a sense of place,” said keynote speaker Steve Beauchesne, CEO of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company, which began with beer making by Steve and his Dad. In a market place dominated by large companies, Beau’s grew from a staff of five, plus Mom (who would help with the books after her day job) to one hundred and twenty-five employees and four million litres of beer a year.

Are they mainstream? Sure are. Are they local? Absolutely.

“Whether it’s broccoli or beer, you are providing buyers with an experience,” said Beauchesne in his speech to over 200 attendees.

Be unique. Grow your business as big as you want. Food hubs and sharing ideas and distribution process are great ways to leverage your growth—as the master of your own destiny you can still remain niche, and yet become mainstream.

Whether your passion is hops growing, cheese, craft beer making, network resources were onsite and ready to assist. Greenbelt Foundation provided an overview of the latest developments in local food hubs, TD Bank discussed helpful solutions in choosing the right point of sale technology, and Foodland Ontario provided market intelligence to get to know your customers better.

The 2013 Usage and Attitude Survey profiles the Ontario main grocery shopper as an adult between the age of 24-54 years, 60% female and 40% male.

“87 percent are eating meals at home, and 42 percent are buying local,” said Kelly Ward, Supervisor of Brand Services for Foodland Ontario.

Customers want fresh, nutritional food; that’s a huge benefit to Ontario farmers, the economy and the environment. While seasonal challenges exist, consumers place the greatest importance on buying local, easy to accomplish with meat, eggs, dairy and baked goods, more difficult with fruits and vegetables.

Food habits have changed over time. There are different demographic trends on how shoppers buy, consume food and prepare food.

Generation X (30-45 years old) wants to feed their kids healthy food, but price still remains important. They want good products at a good price. They are interested in recipes and meal planning, often waiting for the flyers to come out for discounts.

Generation Y (20-30 years old), commonly referred to as the Millennial searches out intense flavors, generally choosing more socially responsible food choices. They want to know where their food comes from, and they want it clearly labeled. When they need to know how to make something they seek recipes from online searches rather than cookbooks..

Generation Z (19 and under), the “salad” generation, is even more food savvy than the tastemakers before them.

Those over 50 years of age are also socially responsible but often less so then their counterparts—buying and eating differently from each other, too. They are commonly referred to as the “sandwich” generation.

The key is to understand your customers, create a business plan and strategy that helps you gain market position. The Local Food Conference featured many industry leaders and community organizations helping local small businesses take their ideas from the kitchen to the wider market place.

Trissia Mellor, Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre from Colborne, Ontario shared the project planning and development for their region’s 15,000 square-foot niche food processing facility that, when opened, will accommodate small batch processing, packaging and storage of foods.

Buy local, eat local—together we can make a difference. For more information and resources visit www.ontario.ca/omafra.

Mojitos and Flesh Soup Feed Hope

Cuba 2014

Cuba 2014

Having just unpacked from the hot sandy beaches of Cuba amidst a homecoming of big fluffy flakes of snow…someone bring me a mojito.

I was warned that if I was in search of gastronomic delights that Cuba is absolutely not the destination to visit—beautiful beaches, horrible food.

Cuba is heralded as the world’s largest working model of semi-sustainable agriculture. They import some of their food, such as rice from Vietnam; otherwise they grow their own citrus fruits, mangos, coffee, sugar cane and more. I am interested in sustainable food models and was fascinated by the way in which Cuba feeds its people.

The visit was an eye-opener. Under a dictatorship, change can be enforced. In a democracy, there is greater freedom to choose the easy way out, which many of us in North America do every day.

Food tastes are personal and subjective. If you are in Cuba for a holiday and food is not an all-important factor then you’ll never go hungry.

We stayed at a high-end resort, and each day the food offerings were refilled for us to pick through. The chefs were available to cook morning omelets and lunchtime pastas to your choosing. I discovered parents carrying jars of peanut butter to quiet picky children and guests complaining about food choice, especially when flesh soup with grey watery broth showed up on the menu. I am told that visiting during high season you will find more variety. But, really, what is in flesh soup? For the most part, you will always find a beer and ham sandwich to suffice.

Book your a la carte reservations as soon as you arrive, you will generally find fresh local food at these onsite restaurants rather than at the buffet. It was recommended to visit the offsite paladares, the private restaurants located in family homes. Most professional chefs have abandoned state owned places and are now working in these establishments.

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However, it was the faces of the Cubans working within the walls of the resort and the opposition of the tourists more than the food that captured my interest. Each day, the workers were bussed or taxied in, with their warm welcoming smiles to work tirelessly for the vacationers.

The average Cuban makes in a year what most of us make in a week. For fifty-one years, Cuban’s have survived on a ration system installed by Fidel Castro as part of his communist regime in the 1960s. It involves a low-priced basket of basic food. The sub-sized ration includes rice, beans, potatoes, bread, eggs and a small amount of meat. No fruits or vegetables are included. Rations must be paid for. Despite communism having its roots in social equality, beef is reserved for their nation’s rulers and for tourists who can pay for it with foreign funds while staying at the resort hotels. The National Review reports that it is in fact illegal to sell beef to a Cuban.

Since 2008, things are beginning to change, Raul Castro took over government from his ailing brother Fidel and the country is trying to shift its people from a less goods subsidy (the ration system) to a more targeted welfare one.

Limited in what they can eat, Cubans spend much of their time thinking about their next meal. I, and many other tourists, found ourselves obsessing over food too.

Cuba is Caribbean’s largest island. It’s a geographically diverse land of mountains, fertile soil and clear waters—the perfect place to unplug and enjoy a peaceful calm holiday. I spent the vacation reading and sipping mojitos—fresh mint, ice, limes, soda and rum crushed together for the refreshing cocktail.

Christopher Columbus, when landing in Cuba, claimed he had discovered the Garden of Eden—a beautiful place, stunning turquoise waters and loads of fish. Today, Cuba is a dictatorship under Castro, and, while progress is being made, the future of Cuba still hangs in the balance. The recent changes have some losing confidence in their government and worrying about their future.

While not the poorest country in the world, Cuba is poor by North American and Western standards. But, where else could you get subsidized food, free education and health care, heavily supported basic living expenses, housing, water and electricity?

My “save the world” muscle was in overdrive, like other tourists I was ready to shell out gifts and money—until I stopped to think that this is Cuba, it’s not Canada. The world is a varied place, and there is more that makes a country go around. Their salary, after expenses, leaves the average Cuban in a similar situation as most Canadian’s after paying bills. My donation was the trip to aid tourism. The truest gift I could give them was respect and friendship.

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My neighbors here at home need my help. Loving Spoonful, Kingston’s food security experts report there are over 19,800 Kingston residents living below the poverty line. With the large fluffly white stuff falling and temperatures dropping this is the season of increased costs for us all—heat, electricity, gift giving and more. My gift giving will happen right here at home. The lovely beaches of Cuba helped to further cement my belief that food feeds hope. We can make an impact by donating and supporting here at home and continue to create a sense of community to those living right next door.
If you have a foodie biz or a restaurant suggestion please email me at ladydinesalot@gmail.com or follow my blog LadyDinesAlot.com or on Facebook and Twitter.

Friendly Neighborhood Bella Bistro

Bella Bistro

Bella Bistro

The charming Bella Bistro was my throwback Thursday lunch, perched beside the waters edge—it’s a great location to enjoy the autumn day. Located at 4050 Bath Road at the corner of Collins Bay Road, the bistro/diner is a friendly, art deco throwback with its wooden booths, brocade turquoise fabric seating, dotted with vintage shelving—a pleasant surprise to this westend suburb.

Owner/Chefs’ Paul Muller and Kevin Lapeer work with local farmers and suppliers and are committed to serving good food—homemade pizza, pasta, Panini’s and more—they make their own bread, pizza dough, sauces, dressings and desserts.

The $10 lunch special was what lured me in—a superb selection of stuffed Panini’s, pizza, soup of the day, salads and sandwiches. The room was filled with ladies lunching and business conversations, while off the beaten track from the usual downtown hub; it is certainly a busy spot. I scanned the $10 menu, but settled on the chalkboard feature of the day—the maple sriracha cauliflower veggie burger with arugula, lemon pepper aioli and crispy fried onions.

Veggie Burgers can be one of the hardest things to get right, especially when you are like me, and a meat-eating connoisseur in search of the perfect juicy burger. But, this was as close to perfection as I’ve encountered in a very long time.

I salivate over a good veggie burger, but often am disappointed by dry cardboard impressions.

I had a bout in my twenties, as a self-proclaimed passionate activist of the vegetarian cause. I emphatically decided that I would no longer be eating meat, ever, and opted for the vegetarian life, sparked by my veggie friends, who challenged me to give it a try through endless debate. I embarked on this new lifestyle with the usual vigor, and there began my love affair with vegetarian burgers. (It lasted until my roommate decided to cook bacon). I’m a total sell-out when it comes to food.

Veggie Burger

Veggie Burger

For a moment, the eighties came flooding back—I was delighted to once again discover an old favorite. I bite into the homemade crunchy, yet “meaty” vegetarian pattie topped with aioli and crispy fried onions—a great balance of sweetness and hot spice. My inner voice screamed for the sweet potato fries, but with a flu-shot-throbbing-arm, the words garden salad spurted out. Best. Idea. Ever. My body was missing my long harvested garden, so it was such a great feeling to chomp on fresh garden greens, red pepper, onions and the simple oil dressing.

I finished with the decadent Bella signature parfait—a blend of Campfire ice-cream (made by Slickers from Prince Edward County) with house-made chocolate sauce, graham cracker and whip cream. It was soft and marshmello’y to cut into, sitting in its’ frosty glass jam jar, (worthy to note when too often in the autumn season ice-cream can be served far too cold)—this was dreamy, sprinkled with a sweet graham cracker crumb topping. A great finish any time of the year.

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Other dessert choices include; fudge brownie, crème brulee, carrot cake, apple crisp, homemade milkshakes and a daily-featured option of seasonal choices.

Bella Bistro serves up local food, and thanks the farmers for their support—most meat is naturally raised within 100km and I may be wrong, but I think I could taste the Patchwork Garden greens in the salad. The art deco font on the sign signals a blast from the past, the street-side frontage with its large windows can be unappealing—don’t be fooled, enter the charming Bella dining room and you soon forget the street outside. This is obviously a local favorite, and a great casual spot for lunch or dinner. The staff is knowledgeable about the food and ensures every need is met.

Bella Bistro is open Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m-8 p.m. and Thursday-Sunday 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. For more information visit their website bellabistro.ca.

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