Promoting a community market with social media

Last night, I was invited to give a presentation at Ignite! Toronto, part of O’Reilly’s Ignite! series, in which each presenter has 5 minutes to present their 20 slides, and the slides advance automatically every 15 seconds. In a complete left turn from my usual enterprise-y topics, I presented on how I am using social media to promote St. Andrew’s Market, our local farmers’ market that just started this year:

The slides may not make a lot of sense if you didn’t hear the presentation, although you will get the gist of it. Basically, I’m part of a local volunteer committee that’s charged with promoting the market within the neighborhood to help drive traffic to it, and I’m using various social media methods and some technology to tie them together as part of our campaign. All presentations last night were captured on video and hopefully will be posted online somewhere soon; I’ll link to that when I see it.

Via tweet from @ryancoleman

Since I’m pretty geeky, I used the technology in ways that non-techies may not: see slide 17 for what could best be described as a context diagram for my market message delivery framework. 🙂 One piece of this is based on some Python scripting that my other half did to help automate a list of Twitter messages each week, and the picture at the right is the point in the presentation where I said “…and this picture is why he’s not here tonight”, since it depicts him wearing a cardboard cone with the label “800 MHz” on his head. What I didn’t have time to explain is that the cone was part of a prototype of a discone antenna with a central frequency of 800 MHz, part of his home-built HD OTA project.

I had great feedback from audience members after the presentation, and I hope that I inspired a few people to take on projects like this in the future to help community projects that don’t have a big marketing budget. I also had a ton of fun, and look forward to my next Ignite! presentation.

Market Flavours: Red Cabbage with Red Onions and Peaches

I obviously made a tactical error last week by publishing the stuffed zucchini blossoms experience; this week, Bosco Farms was sold out of zucchini blossoms before I made it over to his market stand. Next week, I’ll be faster off the mark.

CabbageI did, however, find a fresh little red cabbage and some red onions there, plus peaches from Loffredo Fruit Farms. With a pork tenderloin planned for dinner, I had the urge for some cooked red cabbage on the side. I’ve done so many variations on this, with ingredients ranging from caraway seeds to apples and blackcurrants, and it’s always about getting the balance right between sweet and sour.

This time, I chopped a large red onion and a firm peach, then cooked them over medium-high heat in a deep skillet with bit of olive oil. I quartered the cabbage and remove the core, then sliced it thin; the cabbage was quite small but yielded a couple of generous handfuls. Once the onion and peach were slightly caramelized, I tossed in the cabbage, a few sage leaves and a cinnamon stick, then poured over a bit of red wine vinegar (for the acidity) and a bit of red wine. I turned down the heat, covered the pot, and let it cook for about 45-60 minutes; I’ve also done this in a slow cooker for several hours, which works well. I then added a few tablespoons of a tart orange marmalade, the type made with fruit juices instead of sugar or sweeteners, and let it cook a while longer. I added salt to taste, and removed the cinnamon stick.

PeachesI served this with a pork tenderloin that I had rubbed in the Barbeque Rub from The Spice Trader (another local business that I love to frequent); this particular rub has a strong paprika base which complemented the sweet and sour cabbage tastes well. I dried the tenderloin (having seen Julie & Julia the previous night, in which we learned that meat needs to be dry to brown properly), added the BBQ rub, then browned it all over in a bit of olive oil. I put a lid on the skillet then popped it in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes, or until it registered an internal temperature of 145F, then removed it to a carving board and tented it with foil for 15 minutes before carving.

Next time, I’ll try thyme instead of sage to accent the peaches, and maybe a bit of grated orange zest for a sharper citrus undertone. One thing that I really love about a cabbage recipe like this is that it makes great leftovers: the flavours have a chance to blend a bit more by the next day.

Cabbage, onions and peaches are available at the St. Andrew’s Farmers’ Market; I bought mine from Bosco Farms and Loffredo Fruit Farms this week. The market is on every Saturday until October 31st, rain or shine, 9am-1pm.

GNO with Pat, Gail, Julie & Julia

Last night was a GNO – Girls’ Night Out – with my friends Pat and Gail. We had plenty to celebrate: Gail’s birthday was just past, Pat’s divorce just came through, and we realized that we all met on a day just about 30 years ago when we lived in the same university residence.

We started the evening with the early show of the film Julie & Julia, which is really wonderful. Not just a chick flick, it’s a foodie flick that had me salivating at every turn, and a peek into the love story that was Julia and Paul Child’s marriage. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci were inspired as the Childs, and the twin story lines of the Childs in post-war Paris and the modern-day Julie Powell cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking were nicely balanced. It’s a fun and engaging film, definitely worth seeing.

As the credits rolled, I realized that I was starving after two hours of watching all that cooking: even the popcorn was starting to smell edible. However, a table at Veritas awaited. The place was surprisingly empty for a Friday evening; not sure if they get most of their business at lunch from all of the offices around there, or if we were just too late for the dinner crowd. We started with a round of dry gin martinis with olives and settled in to peruse the menu. Veritas sources many of their ingredients locally, organic where possible, and the menu presented some very difficult choices. Pat and I both started with the Peking duck on scallion pancakes, and Gail had the smoked trout with sweet and sour onions. Both plates were beautifully presented, and the duck was delicious although a bit salty.

By this time, I think that there was only one other table occupied in the restaurant, although there may have been more on the back patio, and the chef came out to chat with us about what we liked, and to hear about Julie & Julia. We moved on to a bottle of the 2007 Thirty Bench Red, a blend with which I’m familiar because I belong to the Number 30 Club and Thirty Bench ships me a case of wine per quarter, complete with the winemaker’s tasting notes.

For mains, I had the grilled Berkshire pork loin with a forest mushroom gratin: absolutely delicious. Berkshire pork is so much more flavourful than the usual insipid stuff that we get in the grocery stores; I didn’t really appreciate how good pork could taste until a trip to eastern Croatia a few years ago, where pork is a staple and the pigs range free in the forests, and Berkshire pork is certainly a step in the right direction. The mushroom gratin was great, but the pork was the true star of the meal. I don’t even recall what else was on the plate, although I’m sure that there was a veg or two. Pat had the roast chicken with chorizo bread pudding and browned beurre beets; she pointed out that she never orders chicken in a restaurant, but was glad that she made an exception. Gail had the rhubarb glazed rack of lamb with braised shallots and wild rice (which had been my second choice), and it looked amazing.

We finished with a glass of port (I think) for Pat, a baked apple dessert for Gail, and crème brulée for me. I’m quite sure that I didn’t need to eat dessert, but it was good.

Quite a foodie evening, between the film and the dinner. Today, I headed over to the library website and reserved a copy of Julia Child’s My Life in France and Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia , since these were the two books on which the movie was based. I also looked up the original Julie/Julia Project blog that Julie Powell wrote, as seen in the movie and on which her book is based. Although the fairytale transition from a blog to a book and movie deal isn’t something that many of us would expect to ever experience, it does show that sometimes if you just get started, things happen.

Tomato Crush with Chef Alida at St. Andrew’s Market

July 25th was the first of our events at the Historic St. Andrew’s MyMarket: a demonstration of three crostini recipes by chefs from George Brown College. This Saturday, August 8th, we’ll be hosting Chef Alida Solomon from Tutti Matti as she presents a Tuscan spin on what to do with the wonderful tomatoes available at the market. Chef Alida shops at the market regularly, as do other chefs in the neighbourhood, and has been known to carry off several crates of heirloom tomatoes in a single visit.

Heirloom tomatoesAlthough my background is pretty WASP-y, I grew up in an Italian neighbourhood where we visited Italian bakeries for veal sandwiches and espresso rather than McDonald’s for burgers and Coke after school, and I consider pasta and at least four types of olive oil to be staples in my kitchen. I spent my best vacation ever at a cooking school in Tuscany, going to the garden overlooking the hills and vineyards to pick the fresh produce for that day’s lesson, cooking in an open-air kitchen, then enjoying the finished product under the courtyard pergola. Can you tell that I’m looking forward to this week’s demo, as well as returning to Tutti Matti for Chef Alida’s mouthwatering cuisine?

Mark your calendars for more events coming soon:

  • August 28th: Getting Peachy with Chef Chris from Ultra Supper Club
  • September 19th: Apples and Ontario Cheese with Leslieville Cheese Market (which now has a shop just around the corner from the market)
  • October 24th: Pumpkin Carving judged by the local Montessori school kids

We also had such a great response to the George Brown College chefs that we’re going to invite them back, probably sometime in September.

If you have other ideas about what you’d like to see at the market, or can volunteer to help organize events, email us at [email protected]. You can also join our Facebook group at //, follow @standrewsmarket on Twitter at //, and see photos of the market (and contribute your own) on Flickr at//[email protected]/pool/.

The Historic St. Andrew’s MyMarket is at the corner of Adelaide Street West and Maud Street, about halfway between Bathurst and Spadina, in the parking lot beside St. Andrew’s Park: // We’re there every Saturday between 9am-1pm, rain or shine, until October 31st.

Please spread the word about the market, we need the community to make this successful!

Market Flavours: Zucchini Blossoms

Rialto market - zucchini flowersI’ve only cooked zucchini blossoms once before, when I was in cooking school in Tuscany about 10 years ago for my Best Vacation Ever; there, we inserted a leaf of sage and (optionally) an anchovy into each flower, dipped them in a light egg batter, and deep-friend them. Yum.

Fresh squash and zucchini blossoms have not been that common in markets here until the past couple of years, so I haven’t been tempted to try them again, but I started seeing them at the new St. Andrew’s Farmers’ Market in my neighbourhood, and finally took the plunge on Saturday and bought some. If you grow zucchini or squash yourself, you can harvest the blossoms from the plants instead; I’ve never tried this, but apparently if you pick the flower close to the base, the fruit will continue to develop.

I had planned to make these for dinner on Saturday night, but after a busy day working the volunteer booth at the market then sailing with a friend in the afternoon, I held off and included them on the menu for Pat’s long lunch on Sunday. While I was at the Cheese Boutique picking up the mozzarella di bufala for the caprese salad, I also grabbed a container of their incredibly good ricotta fresca to use as a stuffing for the flowers. I searched around for a recipe online, and settled on this one as a starting point. I packed the flowers and the ricotta in the thermos bag for Pat’s, and counted on her garden and kitchen to fill in the blanks.

Stuffed zucchini flowersPreparation was pretty easy: I removed the stamen from each flower by spreading the petals, sticking my finger in, and carving it out a fingernail. These were definitely male flowers (pictures here show the difference), which apparently don’t produce great fruit anyway so are often picked for the flowers instead. Lots of pollen under my nails, but quick work; removing the stamen is optional, but I wanted more room inside for the filling. I grabbed a handful of sage and chives from Pat’s garden, and my sister Betty mixed the chopped herbs with the ricotta, along with a dash of cinnamon (no nutmeg to be found, but this worked out just fine) and some black pepper. She loaded the filling into a small ziploc bag and cut a hole in the corner, then I held each flower open while she piped the filling in: note that this is definitely a two-person job, especially if you’re already a few glasses of wine into the afternoon. As each was filled, I pressed the petals closed around the filling. We had filling left over, but ate it later as a dip with crackers, so nothing was wasted.

I made a thin crepe-like batter by whisking a few spoons of flour and enough club soda to reach the right consistency, heated about 1/4” of cooking oil in a deep cast iron frying pan, then fried each of the blossoms for a few minutes on each side until browned. I put them on paper towels to drain, and we ate them while they were still warm. They were really delightful: the fresh taste of the flowers, the slight crunch of the batter, and the creamy yet light filling really came together well.

Now that I’ve tried these at home, I’ll be trying them again. I’ll try the fried sage and anchovy version that we made in Tuscany, and @peregrinatrix said that she stuffed them with goat cheese, chives and olive oil, then roasted them in the oven for 15 minutes, which also sounds very deserving of a trial.

Zucchini blossoms are available at Bosco Farms at the St. Andrew’s Farmers’ Market, every Saturday until October 31st, rain or shine, 9am-1pm. The market is on Adelaide Street West at Maud, about halfway between Spadina and Bathurst.

Market Flavours: Tomatoes and Basil to create a Caprese Salad

TomatoesPlanning to attend a “long lunch” at my friend Pat’s place yesterday on the Sunday afternoon of a long weekend, I decided to take along a caprese salad; or rather, to take along the makings of the salad and create it there. I picked up plum/Roma tomatoes and fresh basil from Bosco Farms at the market on Saturday (then had to replenish half of the tomato supply from a local shop yesterday morning after an unfortunate eating incident 🙂 ), and made a trip out to the Cheese Boutique to procure mozzarella di bufala: authentic buffalo-milk fresh mozzarella imported from Italy. Okay, not exactly a 100-mile ingredient, but there’s really no replacement for it, and I’m not sure if there’s an Ontario cheesemaker that creates a true mozzarella di bufala.

Caprese saladCaprese salad is so easy to make, with the taste completely dependent on the quality and freshness of the ingredients. The tomatoes have to be at the peak of ripeness, the basil fresh (never dried), and the mozzarella fresh and creamy. Although the assembly and presentation is a matter of personal taste, I sliced the tomatoes quite thin and alternated the slices with whole basil leaves in rows on a plate, then sliced the mozzarella and draped the slices over the top. Since the tomatoes were small, I had many more slices of tomato than mozzarella, so this served to share the slices of the mozzarella over the tomato and basil slices. I tossed a few small leaves of basil on top of the cheese to finish it. If I had been using larger tomatoes, I probably would have laid them out in a single layer on a larger platter, topped each slice with a basil leaf, then a half or quarter slice of the cheese.

Huff Estates dry roséI had completely forgotten about dressing the salad, but Pat has much the same taste in salad toppings as I do, so had a lovely Italian olive oil (from St. Lawrence Market, I believe) and a truly outstanding aged balsamic vinegar at hand. I drizzled a bit of each over the salad just to play against the natural flavours, and the masterpiece was complete.

Pat made duck confit sandwiches (every bit as decadent as they sound), and a group of us enjoyed the very different but oddly complementary dishes together – along with a lovely Huff Estates dry rosé, amongst other wines – while spending the afternoon on her back porch. Later, I made stuffed zucchini flowers, and Pat grilled fresh sardines and corn on the BBQ. Needless to say, “lunch” lasted until around 10pm.

Tomatoes and basil are available at Bosco Farms at the St. Andrew’s Farmers’ Market, every Saturday until October 31st, rain or shine, 9am-1pm. It’s on Adelaide Street West at Maud, about halfway between Spadina and Bathurst.

Fun with vegetables: Super Mario Mushrooms

Even if you’re eating your vegetables in their simple raw form when you take them home from the market, you can always have a little fun in the presentation: here’s a set of photos showing step-by-step instructions for turning a radish into the Super Mushroom from Super Mario:

How to make a radish mushroom and Mario mushroom

Check out her photostream for many other great recipe and food preparation instructions.

I buy radishes weekly from Bosco Farms at St. Andrew’s Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, 9am-1pm, although I haven’t yet turned one into a Super Mushroom.

Market Flavours: Fresh Fruit

Red and golden raspberriesFruit has been a bit sparse in the past weeks due to Ontario’s growing season and the cold, rainy early summer, but we’re starting to see a wider variety these weeks. Strawberries are done, but raspberries – both red and golden – are available. I wrote about cherries (more specifically, the really easy pie that you can make from the sour cherries) previously, and you can still get both sweet and sour cherries at the market.

Peaches and plums from LoffredoPlums have just started, and there are both yellow and blue varieties available. Peaches made their first appearance last week, as well as cantaloupes (or “Boscoloupes” as they were advertised 🙂 ). I came home with all three of those, plus more sweet cherries.

I still had a few sour cherries left from the previous week, and made another cherry pie to take to a friend’s for dinner; I have more of the sour cherries in the freezer to enjoy after the season is over.

Check out the crop availability chart to see what else is coming up soon: in August, we’ll start to see apples, grapes, nectarines and pears in addition to the continuing peaches and plums as different varieties come into season.

Fresh fruit is available at many of the St. Andrew’s Farmers’ Market stands, including Bosco Farms, Loffredo Fruit Farms, O.K. Farms and Thames River Melons. Every Saturday until October 31st, rain or shine, 9am-1pm.