January 2011 Review

Happy 2011! As hard as it is to believe, we’ve rounded the corner into a new year and have already closed the books on the month of January. And as I’m sitting here reflecting and thinking back on the past 31 days, paradoxically it seems like a lot has happened, yet very little has changed. I don’t know the best way to describe it other than things are moving along, but there’s still a lot to do before this year is over. I’m thinking back to something one of my mentors said to me many years ago. “It doesn’t matter if you succeed or fail. As long as you keep on moving forward, making progress, trying new things, and working towards your goals, you’ll be a winner”.

As I’m sitting here writing this update, I’m going to take a different approach and focus on some of the things I learned this month. The idea behind this is to continually think about how I’m changing and growing as a person rather than in the past being too self centered around the things I did. While these updates are written more for my benefit, I’ve decided to put them online for people who want to keep up with where I am and what I’m doing these days.

So without further ado, here are some of the things I learned this month:

Everyone Has a Bestselling Story to Tell:
I had a chance to spend a weekend out of town with fellow members of the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council. It was a weekend of strategic planning, but also a chance to spend a bit of time and get to know the other council members as most of us don’t get too many chances to interact outside of formal meetings. One of the most valuable things I took away from the meeting is learning about the diversity of experiences, background, and personalities of the different members. Everyone has such interesting backgrounds, stories, and personalities that I’m sure a bestselling novel could be written on any of the council members. The lesson – spend some time really getting to know people – they’ll surprise you with the most interesting stories you can imagine.

I Really Enjoy Cooking New Things
This month, I experimented with a few new recipes: kimchi, slow-cooker mulled cider, and apple kolbasa tapas – all of which turned out to be quite tasty and delicious. My strategy when deciding upon which recipes to try is to spend a bit of time researching different recipes or recipes around certain key ingredients to get my initial inspiration. I then try to find a recipe a suits the audience / mood / style I’m going for and use that as either the recipe or inspiration for whatever it is I’m going to cook. I use my judgment as what I think will taste good as the final litmus test, which can take up to 10-15 minutes figuring out what I’m going to make, and which recipe to use (rather than searching for and using the first recipe that pops up). The lesson – good food is definitely worth the extra few minutes it takes to find a recipe you like – and even the extra time it takes to cook/prepare and event the potential extra cost to purchase the ingredients.

I Enjoy Going to Various Events, But Also Enjoy My “Downtime”
No surprise here, but January featured a number of fun and interesting events (Guelph organic conference, beer club, and a couple of networking events). And while I enjoy being social, meeting new people, and trying new things, I also really enjoy my “downtime” or personal time where I can sit and reflect (and write this blog) and dream and gather my thoughts.

The Competitive Spirit Inside Me Needs Some Rekindling
I think competitive spirit is the wrong phrase. The words I think that best describe this feeling is “the drive to excel” or taking things to a higher level. What really put it in perspective was an ultimate game just over a week ago. It was the end of the fall indoor league and we were in the “championship” game. I say championship because while it was technically the last playoff game, it felt very much like a regular game. Not that we took it lightly, and we played well and ended up leading for almost the entire game. The other team however, seemed like they were putting their heart and soul into the game, especially as they started making a late charge towards the end. When time ran out, we were all squared, so it came to down universe point for the championship.  I wasn’t so much disappointed that we lost on universe point, but actually more disappointed that we missed out on getting the championship discs that TUC gives for each of its league champions. Talking about it after the game, we realized we could’ve put just a bit more effort into the game, and that probably would’ve made all the difference.

Extending this idea out to other areas of my life, I realize that the “competitive spirit” inside me is still there, and just needs a little coaxing for those times in life when we need to step up our game

I Work Well When There Are Lots of Things Happening
January 1st marks the beginning of the a new month, and also the beginning of a new year. As I started to settle into a new routine for the new year, it actually took me several weeks to really get into a new groove. And ironically, as things started to get busier, I started to get more productive, and that’s when I realized that I tend to work better when there are lots of things happening and I tend to focus when there are multiple projects and tasks to juggle. I’m happy to say that I’ve settled into a new fitness routine, I’m starting to set aside a bit of time to practice for my orchestra concerts (outside of the weekly practices), there’s always time for frisbee, and of course work activities will be at the top of the list for upcoming projects for this year.

That’s all for now. More lessons coming in February I’m sure.

You learn something every day if you pay attention.

-Ray LeBlond


2010 Review: Posts from the Past Year

As I look back on 2010, it was  definitely a busy year. I kept up with my monthly reviews and was able to write a number of other unrelated pieces that both challenged me intellectually and expanded my writing style/repertoire. I’m currently conducting my annual year-end review today and one of the first things is to take stock of this past year.

One of my goals that I set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year was to write at least 2 blog posts per month. While I didn’t manage that specifically, I did exceed my goal of writing at least 24 blog posts this year (total of 25 and counting). Here is a recap of every single blog post I wrote this past year with a one sentence highlight/summary.


Some Thoughts on 2009
-a synopsis of my review of 2009
Moving Outside My Comfort Zone
-it’s the journey that matters most, not the final destination
Poetry Series
-When Death Comes, by Mary Oliver<
January Review
“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” – Woodrow Wilson


Developing my Code of Ethics
-The Golden Rule is one of my guiding principles: do unto others as you would have them do unto you
The Right Frame of Mind
-I’m an optimist at heart, and view the world as an inherently good place


February Review:
Vintage Seeds
-a flashback in time to some vintage seed packages from several decades ago


March Review
-the month of soup


Poetry Series:
>-Desiderate, by Max Ehrmann
Poetry Series:
-To Risk, by William Arthur Ward


No blog posts in June


April and May Review
-features in the Globe and Mail

More Finding, Less Seeking
-click through and read the quotation, you won’t be disappointed

June Review:
-June was the month of cherries, cherries, and even more cherries


July Review
-playing tourist for a couple of days
Conscious Food Festival
-lots of delicious and tasty food
August Review
-the month of day trips and events


Orchestra Update:
-an advertising for an upcoming concert
September Review
-mmmm, pig roast


The 2010 Picnic at the Brickworks
-quite possibly the biggest/best/tastiest food event I’ve ever been to. I can’t wait to go again next year
New Orleans Initial Thoughts:
-what a great city!


October Review:
-mmmmm, garlic
My Review of the 14th Annual Community Food Security Coalition Conference (New Orleans)
-one of the best decision of the year was to go and attend this conference
Poetry Series:
A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


November Review:
-more food related events


November 2010 Review

November has been another hectic month. On one hand, things were lighter as we wrapped up the last of the gardens still needing some work. On the other hand, administrative tasks and backburner projects have now come to the fore and are taking up a lot of my time these days.

It’s been good catching up on a lot of office work, and nice to know that I don’t have to be out and about as much in the cold weather these days. There’s nothing quite like a big, hot mug of steaming tea to keep you company while you go about your work day.

I’ve been thinking about changing around the stye of my monthly updates (again). A while ago, I tried inclulding more reflections on the months activities rather than just a summary of the activities, but found it to be very long and time consuming to write. While I want to continue writing a summary of the fun and interesting activities that happened over the past month, sometimes I feel this monthly review post isn’t the right forum for it. Some of the bigger events deserved a post of their own like the recent one I done on the CFSC conference (not to mention finding the time to write is always challenging) and some events which were really fun I find don’t always warrant a place in these updates. I have yet to figure out a good system or way to write these reviews, so if any of you have any suggestions, I’m all ears! For now though, I’ll stick with my trusty method of posting about the fun and exciting things this past November.


1. So You Think You(th) Can Cook Content
Through my involvement with the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council, I had the chance to act a judge for the 2nd annual So You Think You(th) Can Cook contest held at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair at the Exhbition Place. Along with renowned Toronto chef Brad Long, last year’s winner Hudson Bernard, and Jeff ODonnell of Foodland Ontario, we were treated to cooking demonstration of 3 young people and their original recipes incorporating Foodland Ontario products.

This was the first time I’ve ever had the chance to judge a cooking contest and was very excited for it. Each of the participants had 20 minutes to prepare one dish (prep work could be done in advance) for the judges to taste and assess out of a 40 point scale. 20 points went to taste, 10 points went to creativity and 10 points went to a third category – something about food knowledge or something like that.

Overall, it was a great event, with the 3 finalists cooking up 3 very different dishes. You can find a link to  the recipes and a video of the first part of the cooking contest.

There’s a lot more I would like to write about my thoughts and experiences (such as cooking styles, presentation styles, tasting notes, judging notes, and more on the contest as a whole, but in the interest of brevity, we’ll leave it here for now.



2. Foodie networking event
Near the beginning of the month, I was invited to a foodie networking event by Wayne Roberts. I forget the exact name of the event, but a whole bunch of people involved in the local food scene and eco-friendly scene were there. It was inspiring to meet and connect with some familiar faces, but also with a number of people I hadn’t met before. One person in particular who I had the chance to meet in person (we had emailed back a forth a couple times several months ago) was Candice Batista. It was great to connect with her, and that meeting eventually turned into another opportunity for me. Which brings me to item #3.

As a random aside, I’m not a big fan of the word “foodie”. I used it in this case more out of laziness, rather than spending the time to finding another suitable word.


3. My First TV Interview
After re-introducing myself to Candice, she mentioned that she was filming a tv episode the following week and was looking for local food initiatives to be featured in it. There was still a spot she needed to fill and invited me to participate. So the following week, I headed out to the local tv studio at recorded a short segment for an upcoming episode of @Issue, which airs on the television station iChannel (aka Intelligent Channel). While the studio was quite small and very unassuming, it was a fantastic experience and I saw a whole bunch of other people involved in the local food scene there for the taping as well.

While I don’t believe this program puts their program online, they did say they will send me a DVD copy of the interview and the tentative idea plan is for the piece to air sometime in the new year.


4. Feature in the Queen’s alumni magazine
This November, I was also featured in the Queen’s alumni magazine. They actually did a whole article about us for the online version of the mag, and a small text box/photo in the print copy. It was great see the article finally go live as I think we got interviewed for it during the summer months, and only now was it going to print.

I’m getting ahead of myself here, but my non-profit organization also was featured in blogTO: link


5. Remembrance Day
November 11 is Canada’s Remembrance Day where we honour and remember our members of the armed forces who have served on duty since WWI. I think I mentioned this briefly in another post, but every now and then, I stop and think about how lucky we are to live in a free and democratic society. It truly is a priceless gift for the countless opportunities we have and something we too often take for granted.


6. Tour of the Ontario Food Terminal
As a followup to the cooking contest, all the judges and participants had the chance to take a tour of the Ontario Food Terminal. The food terminal is usually closed to the public, and is the primary clearing house for fresh produce across Southern Ontario. While this was my second time here, this time, we had a chance to meet with the general manager and learn about the history, key statistics, challenges, environmental initiatives, and general story of the terminal. I’ve been meaning to put together a blog post on this (probably won’t happen), but you can see another review by another person here.


7. Frisbee
Frisbee started again for me this month, and I forgot how intense indoor speed point can be. Even though our games are only an hour, I felt that I was running hard almost non stop. I’m excited for this indoor season as there’s a mix of new and old players on the team. In an interesting turn of events, I figured out where my indoor turf shoes had gone after I thought I had lost them many years ago. It turns out that when I moved out of University, I had left a whole bunch of things in my old apartment including my old turf shoes. The next tenants were friends of ours who also happened to play frisbee, and Steve (the new tenant) just so happened to hang on to the shoes, also happened to be on my team, bring them out to the game, and mention that he thought those shoes might be mine. It looks like the shoes are still in good shape as I don’t think he wore them much – not to mention that I don’t think they fit him all too well anyways. It’s like Christmas came early with an unexpected surprise


8. Chocolate fondue
I just had to write about this. I mean, who can’t resist a chocolate fondue – with all that melted chocolate-y goodness. I must have dipped anything and everything I could find in it including chocolate cupcakes (yum!), mixed fruit (double yum!), veggie sticks (not so yum), pretzels, marshmallows, graham crackers, and more. Thanks to Mike and Wing for hosting us that evening and setting up this delicious fondue.


9. YSEC Pitch Competition
On a bit of a whim, and as spur-of-the moment decision, I entered my non-profit organization into a  pitch competition. The competition was put on by a group called the Young Social Entrepreneurs of Canada (YSEC), whose mission is to promote social enterprises. A week or so after we applied, we were notified that we had been shortlisted as one of the final candidates and were invited to attend the final competition.

In total, 5 finalists were short listed to compete for 2 “prizes”. I put prizes in quotation because the winners end up receiving a $1,000 grant. It was actually quite nice knowing that when we entered the competition, we went in not having an urgent need for the money. Despite that, there were many other reasons why we entered into the competition

  • for the publicity and exposure (especially as a new organization) (featured in BlogTO and maybe another upcoming media mention)
  • for the networking and contacts we would meet (have arranged a number of coffee meetings as a result of the event)
  • for the practice (it’s always nice to brush up and practice your presentation skills)
  • and to refine our story (I can now give off a clear, concise, 30-60 second elevator pitch w/out hesitation)

I kind of gave it away already, but we were selected as one of the winners of the pitch competition. Ron and I went out to celebrate afterward, and it was a nice escape from all of the office/computer work I’d been doing all that previous week.

I’m sure more updates on this and other related things will be coming soon.


10. Speaking Engagement for Food Forward Event
Also a last minute event, I was asked to participate and share my thoughts on entrepreneurship and creating your own opportunities in the food world at an event put on by a new organization, Food Forward. I didn’t really have too much time to prepare, and ended up sharing a lot of my thoughts on entrepreneurship and why everyone should take this initiative. Again, it was a great opportunity, and chance to practice and refine my public speaking skills.


11. Meeting up with old friends
November was also interested in that I met up and saw some friends I hadn’t seen in a while – 1 since high school, and several I hadn’t seen in a year or a couple of years. In all cases, it was nice to catch up and hear what everyone is up to.

That’s it for now. There is probably a lot more I can write about, but I’ll leave it here for now


This month’s closing quotation is about one of my favourite topics: food.

To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art

-La Rochefoucauld

October 2010 Review

October featured a Lot of food related events. Again it was a busy month (I think I’m starting to sound like a broken record), and staying on top of work, emails, and personal stuff was a struggle. I’m glad the month is over, and we’re now in the home stretch as we start to wrap up the year with just 61 days to go. Here’s a recap of some of my memorable and interesting events of the past 31 days.

1. Evergreen and Slow Food Picnic at the Brickworks
This was a fantastic event I’m really happy I went to. You can read my post about this here

2. Soupalicious
Another food event that I had the chance to go to. I’m just finishing up my review for it and should be posting that up shortly.

3. Food Security Coalition Conference in New Orleans
From October 15-18th, I had a chance to attend the 14th annual Community Food Security Coalition’s conference. This year the host city was New Orleans, and I’m really glad that I went. Again a more lengthy blog post is in the works (we’ll see if and when I get a chance to pump it out, though I did write a brief post while I was down there with some initial thoughts here

4. Speaking opportunities
October also gave me the chance to practice my public speaking skills at a couple of different events. The first one was with the Willowdale Green Party and ended up being attended by only a handful of people. Regardless, it was a great chance to hone my presentation skills in an intimate setting, and prepare myself for the next talk with the North York Garden Club. This presentation was almost entirely visual, with lots of pictures showcasing the various gardens that we had setup. It turned out to be a great hit and there were many great comments on the photos we took (the club was doing their own photo contest that evening too!). Who knows – this may end up providing more speaking engagements at other garden clubs across the city.

5. Thanksgiving
As the name implies, a chance to slow down and give thanks for the harvest and for all the wonderful “things” (not material possessions, but things like family and friends, living in a free and democratic country, etc) we have in our lives. It’s something I think we should all do more often – and enjoying some delicious turkey with all the fixings while you’re at it wouldn’t hurt either.

6. Landscape Ontario’s Garden Expo
This was just the show I was looking for and needed to go to! Featuring suppliers, growers, nurseries, and all sorts of other contacts from Southern Ontario, I’ve now got lots of new connections to followup on which will help in my business for next year.

7. Orchestra Concert
Since joining the orchestra in September, we’ve been preparing for our first concert on October 30th. With a large repertoire, few rehearsals, and not much time to prepare, I really didn’t know what to expect going in to our concert. Compounding this was my poor attendance (I made it to less than half of the few rehearsals we did have) and it’s a miracle I/we made it through the entire performance. I’m embarrassed to mention this, but the actual performance had a lot of “firsts” for me.

  • It was my first time I knew there was going to be video to go along with our performance in the first half
  • It was my first time playing with our guest conductor (I didn’t know we had one until he walked out on stage!)
  • It was my first time playing through some of the pieces with the orchestra (thank goodness for youtube and being able to play/follow along with the music to know how my part fit in with the rest of the orchestra!)
  • It was my first time to meet and chat with some of the other members of the orchestra

While most of the audience enjoyed the music (the selection of songs was one very favourable point), I had a chance to listen to a few of the recordings of our performance and have to admit some parts sounded the way it felt – needing a lot more personal and group practice. The orchestra is still relatively new (this is the 3rd year), and it’s still finding its groove, and I’m sure it’ll get even better with time. For our upcoming Christmas concert, we’ve got a much easier repertoire (though still very interesting), and the majority of the pieces were performed at last year’s concert, so it should be a MUCH better performance overall.

8. Garlic tasting event
In addition to planting garlic for a number of my customers in October, I set aside a number of unique varieties to be cooking up and sampling. I invited only a small group of people over due to my limited quantities of garlic, and cooked up the garlic 3 different ways

  1. dry roasted in the oven
  2. stir fried with firm tofu and a dash of olive oil
  3. minced and raw

The original plan was to have 2 sets of 4 different varieties (total of 8 different varieties), however after the first set of 4 varieties, we were all garlic-ed out and couldn’t take any more. When I get a chance, I want to write up a more detailed review including some of our thoughts and notes, but that’s a project for another time.

Odds and Ends
In October, Toronto elected a new mayor – Rob Ford. While I’m not that thrilled about his election, I do still love my city and hope that the next 4 years go smoothly. I had another article published on Food Trotter – this time about the Chinese banquet meal. You can read about it here,

I’m excited for November. It’s looking like it will be that time of year to knock off a bunch of those important but not urgent projects I’ve been putting off for too long. And finally, I’ll leave you with a quotation that I’ve been meditating on recently.

Happy is the man who finds wisdom and understanding for the gain of it is better than gain from silver and profit better than gold.

– Proverbs 3:13,14

September 2010 Review

September has been a fun month full of social activities, mostly revolving around food. It saw the end of my summer ultimate season, stuffing my face on several occasions, hanging out with old and new friends, and seeing the weather transition into fall. Here’s a (not so quick) recap of some of the interesting things I did this September.

1. Pulled Pork and Sangria BBQ
For the Labour Day Weekend, I decided to host a BBQ at my place. Though no actual grilling or BBQ’ing took place, instead I ended up making pulled pork in my oven, and a creamy coleslaw (not in the oven) to go along with it. After a bit of research, I decided upon this recipe from the Food Network. Overall it was a good recipe, though if I were to make it again, I would probably lower the cooking temperature and increase the cooking time to get the meat more tender and juicy. When I cooked the pork, my oven has a fancy probe attachment that you stick right into the meat to determine the internal temperature and found that cooking at 300 brought the meat up to an internal temperature of 170 much, much faster than the recipe suggested (like 3.5 hrs vs 6 hours). The only other time I made pulled pork, I cooked the meat at a lower temperature for a longer period of time, and the meat seemed to be much more tender and juicy. I think the moral of the story is, low an slow for best results.

A couple days later, I discovered that I used the probe wrong by sticking it in horizontally into the meat. I was right in sticking it in to the thickest part of the meat, but I should have put the probe in vertically as the horizontal approach allows for more of the tender juices to leak out the side vs. from the top.

A huge batch of sangria was also made, which helped to balance out the rich and heavy feeling of the slaw and pork. Overall, I would definitely do this again. It was a simple meal to prepare, cook, and cleanup, the food was tasty, company was fun and entertaining as expected, the pork shoulders were a surprisingly inexpensive cut, and I ended up with some extra bottles of wine as well.

2. Hispanic Fiesta
Early in the month, I went to go and check out the Hispanic Fiesta happening at Mel Lastman Square (http://www.hispanicfiesta.com/). Despite a threat of rain, there was live music from a variety of performers, interesting food from vendors featuring hispanic dishes (think lots of grilled meat, pulled pork, churros, grilled corn, etc).

3. End of the Summer Ultimate Season
September marked the end of the summer frisbee season with a day of playoff games early Saturday morning. While I was pretty disappointed that we weren’t seeded in the championship bracket (despite being ranked higher than another team who was in the bracket), it was still a fun day nonetheless. We ended up winning our first and last game, though lost our second one. I was a little surprised by the caliber of the Tuesday West division as it was much higher than the Tuesday East we normally play in. While the outdoor fall season has already started, I’m taking a bit of a break until the indoor fall season starts for me mid-November.

4. Pig Roast celebration
In honour of finishing another ultimate season, we decided to have a team pig roast after the tournament to celebrate. While I have to admit we didn’t roast the pig ourselves (we had a Philippino restaurant in Scarborough roast it for us), we did make sure the pig came whole for us to chop into individual portions. It was definitely a bargain too, weighing it at 40lbs and costing only $140.

The pig came stuffed with lemongrass, and a few of us spent some of the previous day preparing some other side dishes. When it came time to cut the pig, I “generously” stepped up to volunteer my services. I say generously because at first it seemed no one really knew what to do or where to start. Not that I knew any better, but I tried to look like I knew what I was doing and before long, individual pieces/portions started to get cut away from the back of the top. Now comes the generous part (though it really just happened this way and was not something I had planned at all, promise!). After everyone had gotten their first portion, I decided that it was time to get in on some of this little piglet for myslef and allocate some of the choicest cuts of pork including the belly, cheek, and ribs. Since we were cutting from the top (back) of the pig, and no one had requested any of the other cuts, all of the best areas were still ripe for the picking! Not wanting it to go to waste, I decided to scoop some of them up for myself. And man oh man, was it ever tasty! I can’t even find the words to do this justice in how good it was.

For fun, I also tried the ear (a little burnt on the tips and very fatty near the base) and the tongue (a bit chewy and actually very good). A couple other observations about the pork. The belly was by far the most tender and delicious. The cheek was not as tender as the belly, but also quite good. The ribs (and other bony areas like the shoulder legs) were meaty and delicious, though not quite at the “fall of the bone” stage of tenderness. Most people on their first serving got cuts from the back of the pig (blade end, center loin, and sirloin) which is much leaner than some of the other areas. I would say 90% or more of the pig was eaten that glorious and gluttonous night.

6. Orchestra Practices
September also marked the beginning of the orchestra season. I wrote about it earlier (http://thetaoofchris.blogspot.com/2010/09/orchestra-update.html), and forgot to mention that we’re also playing some music from “The Chronicles of Narnia” in addition to other Halloween-themed music. For anyone interested in coming to my first concert in probably 5+ years, book off the afternoon of Saturday October 30th for a goblin and fairy inspired music.

7. Gladstone Harvest Wednesday
Right in the middle of the month, I went to participate the Gladstone Hotel’s Harvest Wednesday event where executive chef Marc Breton takes fresh produce from local farmers and showcases it along with local meats, cheeses, wines, and beers from other local vendors. We setup a table there are participated in most of the samples, though I was a bit underwhelmed by the food selection (or maybe it was just that lots of people showed up and it was difficult to get some of the food before it was all snatched up). Either way, it was an interesting experience that I’m happy I had the chance to attend.

As I think back on September, it has really been a month of food. Unfortunately I missed the boat on mooncakes from Chinese New Year, though had a delicious Chinese banquet meal with my family and family friends to celebrate my Grandma’s 80th birthday to make up for it. Oh yeah, and if I haven’t talked enough about food, I wrote an article for Food Trotter that got published at the beginning of the month too. Did I mention I like eating food?

Alright, that’s it for this month and enough about food for now.In parting, I’ll leave you with this quotation by Virginia Woolf, the early 20th century British novelist and essayist.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

August 2010 Review

Another month has passed and that means it’s time for my monthly review. As I come to write this review, sometimes it feels a bit weird to be putting some of though thoughts, activities, and ideas in such a public forum. The way I see it though, the main person I’m really writing for is myself as a sort of diary/journal and because of that, I don’t mind putting in the time it takes to do these updates every month. And while I have no idea how many people actually read this, for people who do want to keep up with what I’m doing, this is the place. So without further ado, here’s a recap on my very eventful month of August.

1. Jimmy’s Taco Party
One of the fun things I did to kick off the beginning of the month was to celebrate Jimmy’s birthday at his taco party. It was a tequilla and taco themed event and both of them did not disappoint. Let’s just say I gained a new appreciation of the taste and smoothness differents between a variety of types of tequilla.

2. Shooting Stars Trip to Lake Simcoe
On August 12th, a bunch of people from my Tuesday frisbee team made the late night trek up to Lake Simcoe to catch the shooting stars of the Perseid Meteor Shower. While we got ushered away from hanging out and watching the stars right by the lake, we did find another suitable location nearby to hang out and watch the meteor shower on full display that evening. While it was a late night and a bit of a drive away from the city, it was definitely worth it for the clear skies that we got. On top of that, we made some cool light pictures with a tripod, super long shutter speed and trusty iphones. http://www.blogto.com/city/2010/08/perseid_meteor_shower_2010/

3. Day Trip to Guelph
One of the more random things I did this month was take a trip up to Guelph. A fellow member of the Toronto Food Policy Council invited me to join him and a couple other people for a trip up to Guelph to learn more about some of the OMAFRA funding initiatives. While the program being discussed didn’t really end up being relevant for me, we did get a chance to tour one of the green roofs on campus, meet with researchers who are working extensively on green roof designs, meet with a local professor, and check out some of the space-age experiments (literally!) they were conducting in conjunction with NASA there. There were a couple of chambers setup that are completely sealed off in an attempt to grow food in a completely closed environment. This is because if astronauts are to make extensive voyages into space, they will need a source of food and nutrition and growing food is one of the things they are experimenting with. Also very randomly, I ran into one of my volunteers who is now a research assistant for the professor I was speaking with earlier. All in all, it was a random, but also highly interesting trip.

4. Trip to Haliburton / Muskoka
Another day trip I ended up taking was up to the Haliburton and Muskoka region. I visited a FSC certified lumber yard and saw first hand how logs get transformed into the finished wood pieces we know and utilize today. It was also a chance to meet with one of my suppliers and start planning and forecasting for next year.

5. Conscious Food Festival
On the 14th, I found myself at the Conscious Food Festival at the historic Fort York. I wrote my experiences there in my last post here: (link being updated)

6. Newmarket Garlic Festival
The weekend after the Conscious Food Festival, I thought I would go and check out the Newmarket Garlic festival. Unfortunatley, the website (http://www.garlicisgreat.com/) where I saw the information about the festival was not up to date and mentioned that the festival ended at 4pm, when in fact it ended at 1pm. While we did catch a few of the vendors who were and buy a bit of garlic, it was still quite a disappointing trip and we were probably expecting too much even if we did make it to the festival on time.

7. CSA Panel Discussion
Through our non profit Young Urban Farmers CSA, we held the 3rd workshop of our summer series. It was a fun night to hear about what other people are doing with urban ag across the city and country. Our next event is on growing native edibles with Lorraine Johnson. More info can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=107102596014642&ref=mf

8. Fresh movie screening
If that one panel discussion wasn’t enough, there was another panel discussion happening the following week following the film screening of the movie “Fresh.” Organized by local food activist Allison Savage of http://radishesandrhubarb.blogspot.com, I was asked to speak on the panel along with several other individuals involved in the local food scene: chef Brad Long of Veritas restaurant, Debbie Field of Food Share, and Tammara Soma of Sustain Ontario. The panel was moderated by Wayne Roberts.

9. Live Green Toronto Festival
Towards the end of the month, the City of Toronto hosted it’s Live Green Event at Yonge/Dundas Square. Featuring over 100 green-themed vendors, it was a fun event to see what other initiatives are happening in the city (lots of clothing related organizations, a few solar related groups, and a mixed bag of other vendors) and help spread the word about what we do.

10. Other odds and ends
Some other interesting things that happening. I met up with some interesting people at a monthly mastermind meeting. Along with another friend, our goal is to bring together other entrepreneurs in the city to share ideas, resources, and to network with like minded people. It’s still a small group, but something I hope we can continue to put together in the future. I’m also pretty excited to setup an irrigation system a friend gave to me. I’ve unofficially joined a community orchestra for the 2010-2011 season (and somehow bypassing the audition process), and started reading some interesting food-related books too (http://amzn.to/KwTdu, http://amzn.to/9HSP9O, and http://amzn.to/by5KVF).

That’s it for this month’s review. As usual, there’s lots more exciting things on the agenda coming up in September. And in parting I’d like to leave you with this poem from one of my favourite childhood authors Shel Silverstein:

Anything Can Happen
Listen to the Mustn’ts, child,
Listen to the Don’ts
Listen to the Shouldn’ts
The Impossibles, the Won’ts
Listen to the Never Haves,
Then listen close to me —
Anything can happen, child,
Anything can be

July 2010 Review

July felt like a long month. With all the hot summer weather and long days we’ve been having, it seems like there’s been time for so many different activities. And without further ado, here’s a recap of some of the interesting things that went on during my July.

1. Weilin Visiting from Australia
Early in the month, I had a friend from Australia come and visit. We had met a couple years ago from a cultural exchange trip to China, and it’s been nice to keep in touch (even if sporadically) over the years, and pickup our friendship and fun times from where we left off. It was also nice to have a chance to play tour guide and show off the fantastic city I get to call home. Some of my favourite experiences were going on a tour of the Steamwhistle brewery, riding the Maid of the Mist ferry in Niagara Falls, and taking lots of comical photos.

2. Swimming
This month, I decided to return to part of last year’s morning routine – which is waking up early to hit the pool and get some exercise. The schedule that I’ve set up for myself is to go on Mondays as well either Thursday or Friday. The first day getting back in the pool after a several month layoff felt quite rough. I was much more out of breath than I remembered and everything just felt awkward. On the bright side, by the end of this month, I feel like I’m really getting my form back and getting back up to where I left off. There are a couple of things I’m going to focus on for the next couple weeks. They are: balanc ein the water, stronger kicking, and more distance per pull. I think after that I’m going to seriously start working on my flipturns.

3. Celebrating Wing’s Birthday on Centre Island
Another highlight of the month was celebrating Wing’s birthday on Centre Island. I got introduced to a new frisbee-related game, got a chance to play some disc golf, and spend an enjoyable afternoon outside.

4. Biking
In the middle of the month, I finally got around to fixing the flat tire on my bike. I’ve had it since last fall, and unfortunatlely the first replacement patch that I put on the inner tube didn’t hold and then the new inner tube that I bought had a really slow leak that ended up not being very usable. Finally, I had enough of not being able to bike around and hastily one Saturday morning decided to finally get out and get my inner tube fixed. I was in a bit of a rush to get going, but luckily, I manager to swing by the bike store, get a replacement inner tube, rush home, and in 20 minutes flat change the inner tube, pump it up, and go for a quick test ride to make sure all was A-OK. It was a bit of a mad scramble, but it got done, and now I have a bike back in riding shape. Anyone up for a bike ride in August/September?

5. Rooftop tour of Royal York
As part of our non-profit organization YUF CSA, we organizaed a tour of the rooftop gardens of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. They’ve got a whole variety of stuff growing up there, inculding lots of herbs, a few grape vines, and even a number of bee hives. It was really interesting to see what they’ve got growing up there, and it even gave me a few inspirations for things I’d like to try to grow in the future.

6. Crab Apple Cider
As another of my random summer experiments, I decided to try making crab apple cider. I picked about a quater of a bushel of crab apples one day and proceeded to spend the next couple of hours washing, coring them, and simmering them over water and a moderate amount of sugar. After the simmering, I strained the resulting liquid through a cheesecloth and was left with a beautiful pink coloured liquid. Because I didn’t add that much water when making the cider, there was a very strong astringent after-taste of the crabapples. Besides the after-taste, it is actually really tasty and refreshing. The way I ended up using it was to dilute it with water, and mix it with a cold-brewed pot of green or black tea for a refreshing iced crab apple green tea beverage.

7. Shiitake Mushroom Harvest
July also marked the month for my second harvest of shiitake mushrooms. After soaking the logs in ice water overnight (you need to literally add a bunch of ice to your container) and then “shocking” the logs by smacking each end with a hammer, each log produced a handful of large, earthy, beautiful shiitake mushrooms. They were probably the best mushrooms I’ve ever had, stir fried with butter, and a litte salt and pepper. Yum!

8. Strategic Planning Session
July was also the month where we had some time to sit down for some strategic planning sessions. We’ve got a couple of ideas we’re looking to implement going forward, so look for new things happening in the future.

9. CBC Metro Morning Interview
Right near the end of the month, I had a chance to speak again with Matt Galloway on the CBC Radio program Metro Morning. It was a fantastic opportunity to promote my business spread the word about what I do. Originally they wanted to do a program more geared towards the early harvest of the summer fruits, but since we don’t really have a focus on summer fruit, we ended up talking about the early harvest of veggies and how we help people in the city grow and connect with the freshest, locally grown food.

10. Eat-in at City Hall
Also at the end of the month, I went for an “eat-in” event at City Hall. Designed to bring people together to talk about food as an election issue, it was a nice chance to network and meet with other people involved in the local food scene. As a bonus, it also drew out a couple of the mayoral candidates and/or their representatives.

11. Frisbee
As many of you know, frisbee is one of my favourite sports. And July just seemed to be the month where my throwing game has really started to tighten up and become more consistent. While I’ve usually been one of the main handlers on my Tuesday team, it’s been nice to be able to step up my game for my Wednesday team as well when some of the other guys haven’t been on top of their game.

After many years and thousands of throws, my consistency and accuracy has gone way up, I’m comfortable hucking the disc my game-time throwing decisions have improved, making a variety of break throws aren’t anything to get nervous about, and being able to place the disc in the hands of the receiver at the right speed, at the right angle, and right place has also improved as well.

That’s it for this July update. It’s been a busy, but good month.

April and May 2010 Review

**So I had this update written for the beginning of June, but just forgot to post it. Here it is, a month late, but better late than never.**

Another month has passed and it’s time for my monthly review. Since May of last year (2009), I was on a pretty good streak of keeping up with these updates, until this past April when I was just too busy to even think about writing an update. So here goes a double header update for both April and May.

April Review
Lots of things were happening, with the majority of my time focused on my business in terms of going out on sales calls, prepping materials for our upcoming jobs, and networking within the local food community. It was a busy month

1. Elected to be a member of the Toronto Food Policy Council
First up, I got nominated to become a member of the TFPC. This is a volunteer council, though there are a couple paid staff members, which is part of the Toronto Board of Health, that advises the city on food policy and related issues. The council is primarily made up of people who have been involved in the local food movement for many years now, and have lots of experience in a whole variety of sectors. I had a chance to skim some of the bios of the other members, and they have a long list of accomplishments which I think seriously overshadow some of the things that I’ve done in the past. Despite the wealth of experience of council members, they are bringing in some more young people to voice their opinions, and it is through the relatively new Toronto YOUTH Food Policy Council (which I am also a member of), I got nominated to be one of the two youth representatives on the council.

More information on the council canbe found here (http://www.toronto.ca/health/tfpc_index.htm), though I’ve been told the website is many, many years old and is not regularly updated

2. Spoke with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning
Towards the end of the month, I got a call from one of the producers of Metro Morning asking if I’d be interested in going into the studio to speak about my involvement in the local urban agriculture secene. Not wanting to turn down such a great opportunity, I accepted wholeheartedly. It was a whirlwind experience where everything happened very quickly. I got a call on Monday asking to see if I’d be interested in participating, got a call back the next day to confirm the time, then on Thursday morning, I found myself sitting in the studio with Matt Galloway as well as with another urban farmer Daniel Hoffman. The interview took place early on Thursday morning (around 6:45am), I arrived at the studio around 6:30, the interview lasted less than 10 minutes, and then I was out the door and on my way for the rest of the day right afterwards. It was a cool experience and I’m happy to say that we got some more business for both the CSA and our private service out of this interview.


3. Grant approval for our non-profit
One of the most exciting news to share this month was that our non-profit Young Urban Farmers CSA got approved for a grant from the Big Carrot. Lots of time and effort went into preparing the application, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the help from many of our great volunteers. I know I definitely breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we have some funding to help sustain our operations for this year. As with most non-profits, funding is always an issue and it’s nice to see that all of our costs will be covered through our shareholders and this grant for this year.

4. The Drake Hotel
Another piece of exciting news was that we landed a pretty high profile commercial account. While the garden that we set up for them is tucked away in a back alley behind the hotel and not very visible, it is still a great opportunity for us to expand to more commercial customers in the future.

5. Online store sales orders

Back in March, we launched an e-commerce store as a way to help get our brand out there and service more people than just in our current geographic reach of the GTA. Not really expecting too much, I was pleasantly surprised as many people somehow were able to find our website and placed a couple orders with us. No SEO or web optimization or anything was done (which is on my to-do list once things start to settle down) to draw people to our site, and some of these customers mentioned that they found us through a simple web search. Maybe this is just one successful example of the phrase “build it and they will come”.

6. Easter
Easter was a bit of a low-key time of year for me. My parents were out of town, but I had the chance to be there for my friend Derek’s baptism. It was also great to see a bunch of old Queen’s people I hadn’t seen in a while too.

That about sums it up for the month of April. I’m sure more things happened that I’ve forgotten about, but that’s all for now.

May review
May has been a hot and dry month. I was able to get my farmer’s tan on, setting up a ton of gardens this year (I’ve actually lost track of how many I’ve put in so far). I’m glad things are starting to slow down a bit more as I can’t keep up the same pace of work for so long.

1. Three Feature Articles in The Globe and Mail
Over the past year, we’ve been very fortunate to have a number of high profile media outlets speak and profile us in their publications (Toronto Life, Toronto Star, CBC Radio). This month, several opportunities came up where YUF was profiled in the small business section, I was profiled in the May 24 gardening special, and our CSA was also talked about in the same paper on the same day as well. I know it’s been huge in terms of generating awareness and will only help business in the future.

2. Selling Seedlings at the Withrow Farmers Market
Also in May, we had the chance to sell lots of seedlings at the Withrow Farmers Market. Not knowing what to expect, I would say we did quite well selling lots of plants each time we were there. We definitely learned a lot being at the market as well. And it was more of the little things that we learned like arriving early to setup, having a banner and some sort of tent cover to help protect us from the elements, knowing which plants to bring, and more.

3. Avoided 2 parking tickets
There was one day during the middle of the month where I almost got 2 parking tickets. In both places, I knew I was parked in a spot where I shouldn’t have been, and both times I was getting back to my car just as the parking officer was showing up to write a ticket. One of the parking officers was really nice about it, and the other was a real jerk about it. I know they are just doing their jobs, but unfortunately they’re in probably one of the professions where most people don’t like it when they do their job well.

4. Start of the Ultimate Season
May also marked the start of our frisbee season. I’m playing on two teams again this year (Tofuriuos and Slam Dunks) on Tuesday and Wednesday night. I forgot how much I missed playing frisbee until I stepped on the pitch for the first time this season. There’s been a bit of turnover on both of my teams, but there are still lots of fun people on both teams that I know it’s going to be a great season!

5. Felix and Boris back in town
Coincidentally, two of my high school friends were back in town in May at the same time and I had a chance to catch up with both of them. It was nice getting together and going for a delicious Chinese vegetarian dinner

6. TFPC retreat and strategic planning session
After being elected to become a member of the TFPC (Toronto Food Policy Council), I had a chance to attend my first meeting with the group and it was a strategic planning session. Surprisingly, this was the first time in the council’s almost 20 year history. I had the privilege of meeting many of the esteemed members of the council (people who have definitely been around the food world and done lots of great things) and contribute to the future vision of the council.

Also, for the first public meeting of the council in June (on Wednesday), I’ll have an opportunity to be a part of a panel discussion about the future of the Food Connections Report recently passed by Toronto Public Health and which should be moving on to the main city council for a vote in the future.

7. Interesting Plants
This year, I’m trying out a number of new and interesting plants. As with all plants, it’s about experimenting and seeing what works for you and what works in our Toronto climate. Here are some of the interesting ones that I’m growing this year:

  • Purple snow peas
  • French lavender
  • Ginger mint
  • Globe basil
  • Thai basil
  • Cantaloupe
  • Tomatillo
  • Climbing nasturtiums
  • “Curry” herb (smells just like Indian curry!)

Looking forward, I’m sure June will bring more interesting events (I’m never one to just sit idly around) and more things to write about. I want to take some time to reconsider the direction of the blog as there hasn’t been any plan or direction so far. All of our gardens should be wrapped up very soon, and it’ll be time to start reaping the rewards of the harvest.

June 2010 Review

June has been a great month and like most months – filled with a variety of interesting activities. My work schedule has been varied with the first part of the month still quite busy, but then things started to taper off towards the mid-end of the month. Here’s a quick recap of some of the more memorable things that happened.

1. Spring BBQ
My second annual spring BBQ got kicked off was a great way to kick off the summer. We had great weather, good food, cold beer (well it needed a bit of time to chill first), and most importantly good times with friends. I made some burgers (thanks to Costco =P), but also whipped up a grilled pineapple marinated with rum, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Still warm and dripping with juice from the grill, this was a delicious finish to some of the other grilled food from the day. I think I’ll be making this again in the future.

2. A Cottage Weekend
For one of my weekends in June, I had the chance to spend it up at a friend’s cottage. It was a nice escape from the city, and I had the chance to do lots of open water swimming, catch up on some summer reading, and enjoy good food and time in nature.

3. Cherries
June was a month full of cherries. I picked cherries from 4 different trees, and probably came away with over 150lbs of cherries. Many of the cherries went towards our CSA participants, however the bulk of the cherries came from the tree in my backyard. It was definitely a bumper crop year, with the cherries seeming to be never ending. In fact, there is probably still another 20 or so lbs of cherries still on my tree waiting to be picked before they go overripe.

I think 3 of the tree were of the sweet bing variety, while the other tree was also a sweet cherry, but the fruit was not as large and not as sweet. Despite many similarities, each tree had several unique characteristics. For example, one tree had extremely flexible branches, meaning that you could literally pull the branch towards you so that you could reach the cherries at the outer reaches of the branches. Other trees had much more rigid branches, making it much more difficult to reach some of the cherries. For some trees, the growth of the cherries occurred mainly on the smaller branches, while other trees like my tree had cherries growing not only from the smaller outer granches, but also from larger branches. Finally, some of the cherries came in large clumps (8 or more per clump) on the branches while other trees had fewer berries per clump (but more spread out .

For the cherries from my tree, unfortunately because of the heavy rain we had the past week, this caused the cherries to really swell in size and burst their skins. While they are still great to eat, this means that they are more susceptible to go bad (since the skin isn’t intact) and that they aren’t as sweet (due to all the excess water). From these cherries, many of them have been eaten and picked by friends and family, many are now in my freezer awaiting some future use, some of the them have been juiced, some have been turned into juice, while still more have been juiced and are now fermenting in another experiement of mine to create some cherry wine. We’ll see the results of what of this are in about a year (yes it takes a while to age, but the majority of the work has been done already).

4. Garden update
I thought I’d take a couple paragraphs about the status of my personal garden. This year, I’m experimenting with a variety of new plants. I put in tomatillos, kale, lemon balm, arugula, lots of tomatoes, a hungarian sweet wax pepper, purple beas, beans, a couple kinds of basil, cantaloupe, and still lots more. Here are some pics of things are looking like

Overall June was a good month. July I think will be a bit of a transition month, but I’m sure lots more interesting things will come from another 31 days.