Chalk One Up

Awhile back I knocked together a sandwich board from some discarded lumber, and painted it with chalkboard paint. Aside from the obvious “Local cucumbers just arrived” or “Coffee and muffin only two bucks,” I’d chalk the odd food quote or (to my mind, anyway) witty pun. Well it didn’t take long for the sign to take on a life of its own, as customers would say, “I drove out of my way to see this week’s sign!” Oh the pressure! Anyway, here are a few of my favorite groaners.

Version one of the sign, made from boards that used to display cigarettes when Niagara Grocery was a convenience store. Now it’s an inconvenience store!

We had no idea at the time just how important gluten-free would become.

Signboard 2.0… Berry season on Vancouver Island.

No, this is not Jen & me, but apologies to Grant Wood.

As Niagara Grocery has been serving James Bay since 1909, we have a lot of Senior customers.

My all-time favorite. The line was actually spoken by Brutus, but is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Much spirited debate with customers.

Kid Stuff

Hi, I’m Nina McKimmie, age 10, and I’ve tasted almost everything in Niagara Grocery. Here is my top five list of foods that kids would like (and they happen to be good for you!)

Aspiring food blogger Nina McKimmie says thumbs up to Adrianna's Chia Chips.

Bull Kelp by Dakini Tidal Winds. Trust me, seaweed is yummy: salty and a little bit chewy. Bull kelp is a symbol of our Northwest Coast. And it’s full of vitamins.

Happy Planet Extreme Green Fruit Smoothie. Okay, it may look gross, but it’s not. It has apple juice, banana, passion fruit, plum, and some lemon juice. Lots of vitamin C here. It has veggies in it, too, but tastes fruity.

Adrianna’s Cocina Mexicana Chia Chips. You can’t stop eating these crunchy delights! These corn tortilla chips are made fresh in Saanich and the chia seeds are good for you. They’re so fresh they even smell Mexican!

Cabbage tops: I’m willing to try almost anything, but I was skeptical at first about these leafy greens. But it was love at first bite! Cabbage tops are very flavorful and taste a bit like broccoli, but better.

Annie’s Homegrown Macaroni & Cheese. My lunchtime favorite, made with real cheese and milk ingredients, and a great source of calcium. Cheesy goodness! In fact I’m going to have some now—this blogging makes me hungry!

Cabbage Tops

We love braising greens: kale, chard, collards, rapini. dandelion, spinach… But I’ve never cooked with cabbage tops. They’re the second, leafy growth from cabbage plants after the familiar round head is picked. Like a lot of early-season vegetables they’re here and gone within a week or two. So when a box of fresh-picked cabbage tops showed up from Vantreight Farms in Saanich, the same day as a couple of Spring Creek ribeyes from Slaters, it was a match made in heaven. I used olive oil, garlic, a shallot, red pepper flakes, and a splash of chicken stock. This simple recipe brings out the best in any of the brassicas—that wide and wonderful family of delicious leafy greens that also happen to be good for you.

• Peel and thinly slice the shallot. Smash, peel, and thinly slice the garlic. Wash the cabbage tops, trim the heavier stems, and chop the leaves, stems and sprouts coarsely. Liberally cover the bottom of a sauté pan with olive oil and sauté the shallot over medium heat. Add the garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes to taste, and a pinch of coarse salt. Add the cabbage tops and toss to coat with oil. Cook for a minute or two, then add half a cup of chicken stock. Simmer for 7-10 minutes, until the cabbage tops are shiny green and tender but not soggy. You can serve this as a side dish or toss in pasta with some shredded hard Italian cheese. Bon appetit!

The Handsome One

The El Guapo equipo: Martin (who also built the cart), with Maryanne, Ryan,
and bubbly baby Florence.

Our food cart raves continued this weekend as El Guapo (“the handsome one”) pulled into Fairfield Market on Friday and Niagara Grocery on Saturday, serving up their signature sandwich: grilled Berkshire pork chorizo, roasted red peppers, and arugula on a crusty bun (with a splash of olive oil). This is an incredibly flavorful sandwich made from honest ingredients that aren’t overpowered by sauce… delicioso! Owners Ryan and Maryanne are longtime foodies whose resumes include restaurants on both sides of the border. Not long ago they raised two Berkshire pigs—El Guapo (“the handsome one”) and El Gordo (“the fat one”)–on Maryanne’s mother’s farm, giving rise to the question, “Now what do we do with them?” The result is the paprika-smoked sausage that is the heart of their El Guapo sandwich. You can find them at the Victoria Public Market, and we’re looking forward to having them back soon in our driveways in James Bay and Fairfield.

Neighborhood food critic Alex gives El Guapo an enthusiastic thumb's up.

Spaghetti Western

It was like an episode from Eat Street: Foodies lined up on the sidewalk, the smell of simmering pasta wafting down Niagara Street, and friends & neighbors elbow to elbow around our harvest table. Last night Cowichan Pasta backed their food trailer into our driveway, and from 4 till 7 served up steaming bowls of fresh pasta. Not just any pasta, but Cowichan Bay Spot Prawn Ravioli… Stinging Nettle Rotini… Wakami Spaghetti… Sol Farm Squash & Chantrells Ravioli–all for eight bucks a bowl. The music, supplied by Bella on sax and Julian on fiddle, was free.

Where else can you find stinging nettle rotini and "Three Blind Mice"?

What makes Cowichan pasta special? Chef Matt Horn (ex The Masthead) uses only local ingredients, like Metchosin wheat (which he mills himself), free-range eggs, Saanich meats, Cowichan Bay seafood, even Vancouver Island salt. Niagara Grocery & Fairfield Market both sell Matt’s pasta, and of course local ingredients for sauces.