Sunday, March 27, 2016

Is Easter about the food or religion?

Has Easter become a holiday like Christmas where the food becomes more of the thing than the religious aspect?  Also has commercial marketing been bombarding your feed lately?

I don't celebrate Easter so I don't have any Easter traditions.  Probably the closest thing to an Easter tradition for me is buying the Cadbury Mini Easter eggs over the lead up to Easter.  They are addictive little things.  

It struck me that I see people talking about the food they are going to eat a lot more than any of the religious aspects anymore.  Has it turned into a feast or marketed holiday?  I am not the one to ask but I will ask you if you celebrate Easter what is the most important part of it for you?

I have also been thinking about kids that live in food insecure households who don't get to have Easter Egg Hunts because their parents just can't afford to buy the Chocolate eggs.  They can get pretty expensive especially if you have more than one kid.

Since I don't have any Easter traditions or family recipes to share I just wanted you to think about the people that aren't celebrating Easter because either it's not their religion or they don't have family to celebrate it with or maybe they just can't afford to participate in the usual Easter traditions like the Fish, Easter eggs, and whatever else is part of a family Easter tradition.

Gastropost  @gastropost and Maple Leaf Foods @MapleLeafFoods are teaming up to help the people that aren't able to afford to put healthy food on their table with a new campaign.  You can nominate an individual that volunteers or works in food for a $10,000 donation.  You will benefit too.  It has to be someone involved in a not for profit registered charity.  Food Insecurity affects 1 in 6 children in Canada.  Hard to believe for a country that everyone thinks is free and progressive.

The campaign is called #FEEDITFORWARD and if you would like to nominate someone click on this link to register them.

This Easter think about the people in your lives that aren't sitting down to a big Easter meal or can't celebrate Easter for whatever reason and invite them to dinner or start a tradition by bringing them one of your extra family treats.   #FEEDIT FORWARD if you can.  You never know how much it will mean to someone's life.

I am not a religious person but pray for the people that need a bit of help with all the challenges going on in this world we all need peace, health and happiness.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Feed it Forward

Food insecurity in Canada

Do you know what the face of hunger looks like?

1 in 8 Canadian families struggle to put food on the table.
·       32% of the people requiring food assistance are children.**
·       25% of food bank users are immigrants.**
·       79,000 people each month access a food bank for the first time.*
·       Almost 40% of food bank clients have a diploma, degree or higher.**
·       On average, people who use food assistance programs do so for two years.**

*According to Food Banks Canada's HungerCount 2015 report.
**According to Daily Bread Food Bank's Who's Hungry 2015 report.

1 in 6 Canadian Children are affected by food insecurity.
*Source: Maple Leaf foods

Over the past couple of years I have learned a lot about Food Insecurity in Toronto and around the world because of my blog and in my work as an Ambassador for Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.  I got involved to see if I could do something to help people learn about their food and in the process I learned about the food insecurity issue from attending local charitable events that raise funds for programs like the Stop Community Food Program, who have various food training programs and they provide food to local communities in need.  This past October  a group of people and  I toured a couple of local schools and we learned about the Feed Tomorrow program that has school programs that provide food to school children who are experiencing hunger.  The older students volunteer to assist the program.
Second Harvest is another great non-profit that has great initiatives that many local restaurants in the city support by donating food.  And don't forget the food banks, one of the largest being the Daily Bread Food Bank who work tirelessly to get food and cash donations to provide food for people on various forms of assistance.

In a city as big as Toronto that is supposed to be "booming" why do we still have these organizations struggling to serve the local community?

Is food a Human Right?

While I am not a big fan of giving street people spare change because I don't believe it helps them in the long run, but I do believe there are a lot of people that need help.

Food Insecurity is a bigger problem than you think.

Recently the cost of produce shot up almost triple the normal cost and a head of cauliflower could cost about $8.  When you make $11.50 an hour you

If you think about the fact that the minimum wage is under $12 and the cost of living in Toronto for just a bachelor apartment starts at $900 if you are lucky, there isn't much left for enough food  after you pay your necessities but isn't food a necessity too?

If you are single on Ontario Works assistance you only get $681 dollars a month.  They believe you should spend $200 a month from that for food.  Good luck with that working out.
Disability is somewhere around $900 a month I believe.
In other words if you get sick or lose your job you have a good chance of going hungry at some point unless you have some other assistance.

As a regular contributor to Gastropost (The National Post's) community I am happy to support a new partnership campaign between Gastropost and Maple Leaf Foods.
Maple Leaf Foods will provide a $10,000.00 donation.

Feed it Forward by nominating a great Canadian in your community who has gone above-and-beyond to use good food to better the lives of others. Whether they have put in place a program to nourish school children, deliver nutrition education for people who need support, or use food as a way to bring people together and teach valuable life skills.

Nominate a great Canadian in your community who has gone above-and-beyond to use good food to better the lives of others. Whether they have put in place a program to nourish school children, deliver nutrition education for people who need support, or use food as a way to bring people together and teach valuable life skills.

They could receive a $10,000 donation towards their organization and enjoy free Maple Leaf groceries for a year.  And just by nominating them you could have the opportunity to receive free Maple Leaf groceries for a year.

The Nominee must volunteer or work for a registered not-for-profit organization or community group that uses food as a key component of supporting their program goals.

I mentioned a few of these organizations above.

To NOMINATE someone submit your information here:  

This program takes place from March 21 to April 9, 2016.

Spread the word and get people talking about this great campaign that can make a difference in a lot of people's lives through this large donation. It's easy, all you have to do is nominate someone that is already doing good things to help them and you be rewarded for the great work.

Don't forget to follow along on social media and Tweet, Instagram, Facebook or whatever else you use to spread the word.

HASHTAG #feeditforward
Don't forget to follow @MapleLeafFoods on Twitter and Instagram
Follow fellow Gastroposter's feed using the Hashtag #Gastropost
Become a Gastroposter and submit your food photos for weekly missions and follow @Gastropost

This blog post was promoted by Gastropost + Maple Leaf Foods but the opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bake some easy Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick's Day


March 17, 2016

Seems like everyone is IRISH today but even though I have a lot of different cultures in me I am pretty sure there isn't any Irish but I can easily become Irish inspired by FOOD today.

I love making fresh bread and I don't do it often enough because it takes time but this Irish Soda Bread is as easy as making Beer Bread.  This was my first attempt at Irish Soda Bread but I think it turned out pretty well.

I followed a pretty basic recipe.  Traditional Soda bread has only a few ingredients.


4 cups of flour
1t sp of Baking Soda
1 Tbsp of Salt
1/2 Tbsp of Sugar
2 cups of Buttermilk

Mix all the dry ingredients and then pour the buttermilk in all at once and mix with a wooden spoon or even your hands.   Fold it out onto a floured board and just bring it together until you can form a ball.   Cut an X in the top of the bread with a knife and then place it on a sheet of parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place a Dutch Oven (Le Creuset) is what I used into the oven to heat up.  Once the Dutch Oven is hot take it out of the oven and then lift the bread dough with the parchment paper and put it in the Dutch Oven and place the lid on it and put it back into the oven for 30 minutes.   Take it out of the oven and take the bread out and place it on a cookie sheet and place it back into the oven for another 15-20 minutes or until it's browned all around and has a crunchy exterior.   Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting it.   You can add currants to it for a sweeter bread but I skipped it.   Serve with butter and honey if you like or along with a good Irish Stew and a Guinness to wash it down.

I was going to make Colcannon but it's getting late.  I had to go out to the store to get the buttermilk for the bread so I didn't get to it until later than I planned to.  I wanted to get it done quickly so I could take a photo while there was still natural light outside.

So go and be IRISH for a DAY and make some Soda Bread.  It's pretty easy.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Pusateri's opens Food Hall at Saks Sherway Gardens

 Pusateri's Food Hall Opens at Saks Fifth Avenue at Sherway Gardens

I started my day today at the brand NEW Pusateri's Fine Foods Food Hall at the also recently opened Saks Fifth Avenue store at CFSherway Gardens.  It's a bit of a trek for me but I wanted to see what the pairing of 3 power brands would look like.  I stared off with a latte at the Nutella Cafe where there were all kinds of treats made with Nutella and crepes and an array of other pastries.  I tried the strawberry Nutella crepe and a bit of apple strudel.  Today was opening day and they were still buzzing around trying to get everything ready.  It takes a village to open a store like this.  Everything is set up in perfect alignment and a feng shui master would be so happy in this space.  Attention to detail is unbelievable and my fellow blogger buddy said it was so perfect she didn't want to touch anything.  I am sure that's not what they want but at the same time it means that everything is in the perfect place.

The whole space has an amazing flow and bright and airy.  Much lighter than the other Pusateri's which are not as spacious.  

A grocery shop like this is a dream store for me.  It's the Best of the Best from local producers and the top products from around the world.  I spotted my favourite Kusmi Teas from Paris and they have Forno Cultura, Blackbird Baking Co. and Fred's Breads and more local products like Nugateau to come.

Manager John Mastroianni
John Mastroianni, Pusateri's Manager stated that they look for products without GMO's, antibiotics and all the nasty stuff you don't want in your food and seek out the best they can get with unique and staple items.  The funny thing is that John is married to the girl I used to live next door to many years ago.  

Pusateri's owner/founder took a bunch of us media types for a little tour of the store where they explained some of the products and sections like their Prociutina as in this photo explaining how they age and slice their prociutto's on site.

There is so much high quality food sections available for people that are willing to pay for the best quality and products that are hard to find in one place. This is the first mall that has a grocery store attached to the mall as they say.  I don't know about that but it is unique for sure.  It's nice to be able to pick up dinner after running errands at the mall.  There is the smaller Pusateri's at Bayview Village but it pales in comparison to this one.  The Manager John also told me that they will open an even bigger one in the Path at the Bay/ Saks at Yonge and Queen Street soon.  That's the one I will probably hit up when I need some specialty items since it's subway accessible.


There is a Sushi Bar, a Fish counter, meat counter, packaged deli meats, a bread section, a full produce section, lots of desserts and a huge array of prepared foods that you can grab and go when you just don't have time to cook or just don't want to.   From proteins to sides they have you covered.  Don't go hungry or you will buy enough food to eat for days and days.

The Whole Pusateri family was on hand to cut the Panini to welcome everyone to the new store.

And the future generation of Pusateri knows good food when they see it and little does this little man know that he is being subliminaly trained to step into the future of food.

Pusateri's was the first to really cater to a high end clientele in Toronto starting up in North York and then other's have tried to step in as well but either way the competition is great for the people who live in the city that don't want to travel all over the city to find the best food they can get.

I just wish my income matched my palate so that I could shop there more often.

Sherway Gardens is still growing and there are more big things to come and as for Pusateri's there is also more to come.  Check them out and bring your appetite and your wallet.

For more info on Pusateri's
For more info on CFSherway Gardens
Fore more info on Saks Fifth Ave.

Follow Pusateri's at @pusaterisfoods
Follow Saks at Sherway Gardens @saks_sherwaygdns

Hashtag  #pusateriatsaks  #mypusateris

Friday, March 4, 2016

Food on Film Sets

The happy face on this plate of food was made on set for a scene in an Independent Film that I have been working on doing makeup.  The film is called Nursery Rhyme of a Madman. We film on weekends around everyone's work schedules.  This food would fall into the Prop department normally as it would usually be duplicated a few times to be able to be filmed over the duration of a long filming day.  On this low budget film we had 2 versions.  The importance of this is trying to have the same plate match.  This is tough to do with real food and especially tough when you don't have a dedicated prop person as in the case of this film.  This plate was made by the director's wife who has been providing the food for the film.  
It's important to note that this sometimes happens on low budget indie sets where friends and family pitch in to save costs and get the job done.  Making films is expensive and time consuming.  On this film our days run 12 hours and we usually film on both Saturday and Sunday and are on set at 7am.    

We have been lucky to have one primary location for this filming and they have a large kitchen and a walk in fridge.  This is extremely helpful for this film because the Director's wife is actually the owner of 2 daycare's and isn't always on set so sometimes she drops stuff off and will go back and forth when she can.  On a couple of occasions I had to help out in what is called on set as "Craft Services".   Craft services is the food that is provided during the day and not always including the main lunch or dinner meals.  It is meant for the cast and crew to grab food when they have breaks during set ups when not all cast and crew are needed.   On this film the Director's wife and sometimes myself set up all of the food for the day.  The Director's wife will arrive early in the morning and set up breakfast foods and snacks and then will organize a lunch or dinner meal that is generally scheduled but most of the time it is taken when a scene is complete and it will take a long time to set up the next scene.
Here's an example of what our "Craft table" looks like.  This was on the second day when there was a bit less of it but generally there has to be a pretty wide range of different kinds of foods to energize and suit everyone's preferences and needs.   On a typical day on our set there is at least 25 people that could be there from a couple of hours to 12 plus hours.  The actors are scheduled for their scenes but the crew are there for the duration.  

Because films can be filmed in either temporary or remote locations sometimes there are special food services trucks or catering delivered to the set at a specific time.

Food is provided for the cast and crew because "Call times" the time at which cast or crew start their day, can be at any time of the day.  Our call time is generally around 7am but on a sunday it is pretty tough to organize your food for a 12 hour day and take the time to deal with your food.  It's not like an office where there is sometimes a fridge and microwave for the staff.  

On our set one of the actors brings in his own Muesli concoction in the morning but then will eat the food on set later in the day.

What I have learned over the year's of working on Independent films is that the Food can be one of the biggest motivators of how much gets done during the day.  I have worked on some films where we were given McDonalds or only pizza because it's inexpensive and easy.  On this film we have had pizza a couple of times when there wasn't enough food or we worked later in the day and need a dinner break.

On this particular film we have a nice balance of healthy foods since the Director's wife eats pretty healthy and shops at Costco to get a lot of the bulk food for the set.  We are lucky and get some fresh fruit and yoghurts and things like this Nature's Path Oatmeal which is a great thing on an early sunday morning of a long day.

Even though you don't see the results on screen when you see the movie the food eaten on set really does have a huge impact to the happiness and productivity of the cast and crew.
The Beef Stew below is a big hit with the Crew and the Director and the Kale salad is a healthy and fresh option that most of the crew love.

We had hot dogs for a few days and after a couple of times people stopped eating them mainly because they were made early in the morning and they really don't provide any energy so they are a bit counter productive.  On the other side another popular dish is a chicken pasta dish that the Director's wife's Daycare chef makes that is a big hit with everyone even though we all get the pasta coma afterwards.

But you can't forget the snacks.  Not everyone wants a healthy meal or snack all the time.  People have cravings and sometimes things like a box of Tim Horton's donuts or muffins can really hit the spot for a sugar craver.  But at the same time if you only had Tim Horton's for breakfast everyday that wouldn't be such a great idea.  Although I think most cast and crew would be happy to have the coffee everyday but I know that I have been on sets where Timbits where the only option for food.  It's a lot different when it's your only option and you can't leave set to get what you want to eat.

Yes, that's the important thing.  Once you are on set you generally can't leave unless you are "Wrapped" which means you are no longer needed that day.  The crew members don't get "wrapped" until the end of the filming day.

I have been on the other end of providing food for the cast and crew on my own short films and when I could I tried to provide pretty decent food.  It didn't always work out the way I wanted it to but that's a whole other story but I tried to provide the best food I could because I couldn't afford to pay everyone so I tried to feed them the best food I could afford to provide for them.  On one of my short films we filmed at a cafe and they were able to choose some great food from the cafe for lunch and we only filmed for about 4 hours.

It is a common practice to feed cast and crew well if they aren't getting paid or are working for very little money.  It's the difference between getting your film made or not.  Nobody wants to work on your film if they don't get fed or paid.  Both is everyone's preference obviously.

One of the days that the director's wife wasn't able to be there on the sunday morning but she provided canned tuna and a few things that I could make the leftover hard boiled eggs from the previous day into egg salad for sandwiches.  Because I didn't want to leave egg salad or tuna sandwiches out all day while I was busy doing makeup I decided to make them into half sandwiches and wrapped them in saran wrap.  This turned out to be a great idea because i brought a few to the set and left the rest in the fridge to be brought out for lunch and later in the day.  Any that were left were grabbed by everyone on the way out so nothing was wasted.  It took me a bit of time to do this but I knew that the food would be wasted if it was done any other way.  Everyone really appreciated it.  I made curry egg salad and put a bit of apple in them for crunch so they were a bit hit.

Not every film has a makeup artist/food blogger/photographer on their crew but this film has me and I have been doing all 3 duties to pitch in.  I have been taking photos on a lot of the films I worked on for continuity and because it gets boring standing around so I like to look for funny things on set or photos that maybe the stills photographer doesn't take.   On this film we have a guy that only comes to set once in a while so I take all the silly behind the scenes photos.  That's also another story and hopefully they will be seen at some point.

I have worked on different film sets where the food has been great and extremely horrible.  Once on a commercial they had a caterer that provided worse food than if they had ordered a pizza so they had to go out and get pizza afterward.

Talk to anyone that has worked on a film and I bet the they tell you about the food, how the director's were, the location and if any of the actor's were jerks.  They will remember if the food was great or awful, the stuff in the middle doesn't get remembered but that's ok.  That means it did the job.

Here are a couple of my tips for food to have on set:

1. Grab and go food like individually wrapped cheeses or apples or other fruits like bananas that don't require too much fuss.  Oranges don't go over as well sometimes but bananas seem to.

2.  Drinks,  have lot's of bottled water.  Hot lights make people dehydrated and long hours need a lot of hydration.  The crew guys like to grab a can of coke when they need an energy boost.

3.  Pasta, everyone loves pasta but make sure you have other options for the gluten and dairy intolerant people.

4.  Snacks,  We have had the Chicago Mix popcorn on set which has both cheese and caramel popcorn and that has been a big hit with everyone because it covers the salty sweet cravings.

5.  Coffee,  I probably should have listed this first.  It's is fuel for most people on set.

6.  Chocolate,  it makes everyone happy so make sure there is a lot of it around and different kinds.

7.  Healthy options like a boiled egg, yoghurt, oatmeal or fruits are great to sustain energy.

8.   Comfort foods.  I once had grilled cheese halfs on one set and that was amazing.  I also had little finger sandwiches of cheese and cucumber that totally hit the spot.   Foods people know like Lasagna, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, classic sandwiches and shepperd's pie or a caesar salad can be pretty popular because people know what it is and don't have to figure out if they will like it.  I once had Kentucky Fried Chicken as one of the dinners.

9.  Easy food.  Don't make it too complicated.  Time is money but make sure it's satisfying.

10.  Make sure it tastes good and there are options for everyone.

A lot of these tips can be applied to any event where there are a lot of different people that need to be fed but a film set has a few unique challenges when it comes to food.  Maybe one day I will tell you some more tales from the set.

In the meantime the next time you watch a movie think about what kind of food the cast and crew may have had on set.  You can't see it but it made a big difference to how the film was made.