If this summer goes by any faster, I may get whiplash.
I always find the August long weekend, just days away, mildly depressing because it means the unofficial end of my favourite season is nigh. Only a few weeks until Labour Day and from there, it just snowballs into you-know-what. Not to sound like a Debbie Downer but I adore summer and the thought of it ending always makes me a little melancholy. I think it's residual dread from my younger days and that looming return to school. It's only been 12 years since I finished university and yet that feeling hangs on, like a stubborn cough after a cold. Totally annoying and unpleasant. OK, now to conjure the return of the Glass-is-half-full Me. There are still several weeks we usher fall's arrival. So, focusing on that, I bring you a handful of made-in-Niagara summer essentials that have been making the best time of year even better for me. They've become regular features on my plate or in my daily routine and I share them with the thought that if I like them, there's a good chance you will, too. So without further blathering, here goes:
Niagara Aquaponics sprouts
I've been buying these for months now, via the Niagara Local Food Co-op, and I can't imagine a sandwich without them anymore. My addiction started this winter when I was still pregnant and dealing with the sniffles. I bought some of the lactation/cold and flu blend, thinking both benefits promised by this bean and fenugreek sprout mix would be helpful at the time. While I can't say whether they helped knock out whatever bug had invaded my system, I can say that since becoming a mom, and a nursing one at that, these sprouts live up to the hype. And they taste really good. So, too, does Craig's spicy mix, with its punchy radish and mustard sprouts. Between bread, in a salad, they've become a health and flavour-packed fixture. You can get yours online or the All Natural Care Shop on Fourth Avenue in St. Catharines.
Sweet Potato Johnny sweet potato and black bean burgers
I have to confess that as a vegetarian, there's still something about the smell of a barbecue that gets me. I'm sure it's my repressed Homo erectus being nudged awake by the smell of cooking over fire. Still, barbecue season isn't what it used to be mostly because it's been tough to find a worthy burger substitute. I'm not a fan of the soy faux meat patties and becoming a master of the bean burger has eluded me. They either turn out really bland or fall apart at first bite, if they don't crumble on the grill first. Fortunately, a fellow named Sweet Potato Johnny has become a veggie burger meister so I don't have to lament my lack of skill here. Not only do his sweet potato and black bean burgers stay intact while cooking and eating, they have flavour. Lots of flavour. There's a cumin kick mellowed by the sweet-tasting tuber joining forces with hefty of black beans, quinoa and oats. Bonus points for these burgers tasting even better the next day as leftovers. They make me grateful for my co-op membership but they're also available at the Grimsby Farmers Market and the Market at the Village in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Aceto Niagara Icewine Mustard
My husband and I have never eaten so mustard as we have since first trying this gorgeous condiment earlier this year. Despite having icewine in its name, this isn't a sweet mustard. This finely ground Dijon has heaps of heat, but it's beautifully tempered by those fermented frozen grapes. The icewine also keeps the vinegar in check, which can overwhelm many mustards and make my mouth pucker. Truly, if every mustard contained Niagara icewine, the world would be a better place, but fortunately for Martin and Wolfgang at Aceto Niagara, they cornered the market. Burgers, sandwiches, sausages, in salad dressings — we don't care — if we can find a reason to use this mustard we will. Put it on the table the next time you have a barbecue and your only disappointment will be finding an empty jar when the meal is done. It's available at the Fruit Shack on Niagara Stone Road, Konzelmann Estate Winery on Lakeshore Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ridge Berry Farm in Ridgeville and online at Foodie Pages.
Photo by Nathaniel David Johnson
It wouldn't be summer in Niagara without them. I live for peach season. Dream about it during winter's deepest freeze. The thought of a juicy, fuzzy local peach in those moments is incentive enough to not give in to the winter blues. This year, Niagara is expected to produce 1.8 million baskets of my favourite fruit. Sounds like utopia to me. But as with every peach season, I turn on the PSA about fair pricing for a basket of peaches. It's not $2.99, which grocery stores sell them for to lure people in the door. Farmers take a loss on those peaches so head to the farm stand instead and buy them directly from the source. All money goes to the farmer, who, in most cases, won't mark them up unfairly. My usual pit stop for peaches raised the price for a three-litre basket by 50 cents this year, which is entirely understandable, given minimum wage went up 75 cents, and there's a crew of labourers to pay. So at $5, I'm still getting a bargain and my farmer is making a sustainable return. A fair price for peaches is in the $4.50 to $5 range this year.
Skinny Dip Soaps
So after all that eating (and before) you'll need to wash up. These soaps, made in Thorold, will help you do it and enjoy it all the while. I tend to avoid buying handmade soaps. I find them expensive and usually gone in three days. If ever the saying money down the drain was apt... And if there's any colour added, it usually leaves stains in my shower long after the soap has dissolved. Skinny Dip Soaps last at least a week in the shower, between me and my husband, and there's no gross residue left behind on us or our stall surround. The soaps smell and feel dreamy and there are no freakish or tongue-tripping ingredients in them. Their tag is 'Nothing to hide' and it's true. All ingredients, which you can feel good about, are listed on the label. My favourites are fruity salt, which exfoliates, and lemongrass blend, whose citrus smell is pleasant wake-up call. I get mine through the Niagara Local Food Co-op but you can also find these guys working the local craft fair circuit.
Garden City Essentials Lip Balm
Imagine you're in the throes of labour. The contractions are coming hard and fast and you're thinking maybe you should have asked for that epidural after all. Next thing you know, someone is coming at you with lip balm because they think it will help. If it's this lip balm, it will. Despite the pain I was in, this super smooth and rich lipstick of goodness made by Garden City Essentials temporarily took my mind off the pressing task at hand. I remember remarking "Wow, that's amazing lip balm. It feels really good," to my sweet husband who had the guts to smear it on me in that moment. If lip balm can distract you during contractions, it's magical stuff. This is not hyperbole. The story above really did happen. The maternity ward at the St. Catharines hospital should stock tubes of this lip balm for all labouring moms. The ingredients for the plain balm, which I use, are awesome in their simplicity: coconut oil, beeswax, shea butter, cocoa butter, grapeseed oil and safflower oil. My only disappointment was losing it somewhere in the chaos of a major life changing moment. Fortunately, I've since replaced it and aside from happy memories, it offers relief from the elements while keeping my smoocher entirely smoochable. I get mine through the co-op but like Skinny Dip, Garden City Essentials is a fixture at craft markets, Bang On Hair Salon in St. Catharines and select stores in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It's also available online.