Five food-tastic ways to celebrate spring

Clearly, spring has sprung and another year of great local eating has begun. We have so much to look forward to — from Canada’s biggest cheese show, with a huge amount of its flavour from the Ottawa area, to a grand opening party for the area’s hot new artisan sausage maker and area farm tours.

Here are five of the top ways to celebrate local eating this spring:

1. A fun food fair this Saturday, May 12

LAFF — the Locavore Artisan Food Fair — has been a sellout success the last two Christmases. On Saturday, don’t miss the first spring edition, to be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at New Edinburgh’s Memorial Hall, at 39 Dufferin Rd.

You’ll find many fine old favourites — michaelsdolce jams, Auntie Loo’s Treats, Yummy Cookies and Pascale’s ice creams — but also some exciting new vendors, including Hintonburg’s hot SuzyQ Doughnuts (think Maple Bacon or Lemon Thyme), Seed to Sausage with its knockout salamis and chorizo (more on this new and already much-loved company in No. 2, below), and Richard’s Kitchen Flavours (chef Richard Nigro’s “mopping and sopping” sauces, just in time for barbecue season).

“The fair has a really great vibe,” says Colleen Forer, the talented baker who owns Yummy Cookies and who has participated in LAFF since the first event. “There are so many good things happening in food in the city and everybody taking part in the show is producing quality, quality goods.”

Forer is making her pretty meringues (see her recipe for Belgian Chocolate Raspberry Meringues below), amazing ginger cookies, shortbreads and spring-themed decorated sugar cookies in the days and hours before the fair, so they will be as fresh and delectable as possible.

“I like watching the expressions on people’s faces when they’re eating them,” says Forer. “Then you know you’re hitting it right.”

She’ll be selling bags of cookies and gift-wrapped boxes, perfect for Mother’s Day on Sunday.

A special springtime treat will be food trucks and an outdoor picnic area. Jacqueline Jolliffe will be serving her wonderful soups and tacos from her bright green Stone Soup Foodworks truck while Mark Snyder will be serving his fabulous pizzas from his Flatbread Pizza Company portable wood-burning pizza oven.

For more, see ottawalaff.ca.

2. One week later, a sausage extravaganza

What better way to celebrate the long May weekend, than a drive out to Sharbot Lake? On Saturday, May 19, the wildly popular new local charcuterie company Seed to Sausage will hold a grand opening party at its headquarters about 90 minutes west of Ottawa.

Expect live music, whole pigs and lambs on spits, creations by top area chefs, oyster shucking by the Whalesbone owner Joshua Bishop, a chip truck manned by Brookstreet chef Kyle Christofferson, beer from Montreal’s McAuslan microbrewery and wine from Sandbanks Estate.

“May 19 is Jamie Oliver’s food revolution day,” says Mike McKenzie, owner of year-old company Seed to Sausage. “I thought how great it would be to have a big party that brings together some of the best foods produced in the region. Eventually I’d like the event to get so big we’ll move it to the beach at Sharbot Lake.”

To get to the Seed to Sausage party, head west on Hwy. 7, turn left on Hwy. 38 and 12 minutes later you’ll see the spot on your right, at 12821 Hwy. 38.

For more, see seedtosausage.ca.

3. Take the cheese, the first weekend in June

Last year, cheese lover Georgs Koleshnikovs nervously put on the first Great Canadian Cheese Festival, in Picton, a small town in Prince Edward County. Would enough people travel from Toronto and Ottawa to make the event a success?

“Over two days we packed in 2,200,” says Koleshnikovs. “We had more people than we had even hoped.”

And the biggest surprise was just how popular the event was with people from the Ottawa area.

“The cheese festival is two hours and a bit from Toronto, and three hours from Ottawa, but Ottawa-area visitors outnumbered those from Toronto two to one,” says Koleshnikovs. “I think, on a per-capita basis, Ottawa is a much more foodie city than Toronto.”

This year’s event will be bigger and even cheesier, with 36 cheese producers from across Canada, up from 27 last year. New at the festival will be Ottawa-area cheese producers Fromageries les Folies Bergères, Glengarry Fine Cheese, Clarmell Farms and Back Forty Artisan Cheese.

So many artisan producers who make foods that go well with cheese are coming from the Ottawa area, this year’s festival will include a pavilion called A Taste of Ottawa, where you will be able to sample such products as Major Craig’s Chutneys, Seed to Sausage charcuterie and michaelsdolce jams (more on these in No. 4, below).

National Arts Centre chef Michael Blackie will return to the sellout Cooks and Curds gala, where his entree last year won the people’s choice award. He’ll join Toronto star chef Jamie Kennedy, who lives in Prince Edward County on weekends, and six other top chefs from across Canada.

It’s not too soon to buy your tickets, or book your B&B, for the June 1 to 3 events, since all filled up last year.

For more, see CheeseFestival.ca.

4. The farmers come to us

The Ottawa Farmer’s Market had a triumphant, sunny return on Sunday, not to Lansdowne, which is about to get under construction, but to Brewer Park, near Bronson and Sunnyside avenues. It will be there now every Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., until Oct. 28.

Families had picnics on the lawn and several vendors said they preferred the cooler grass underfoot to the asphalt at Lansdowne. Parking is a bit of a conundrum; I’ll ride my bike in future, but you can download a free parking pass for Lot No. 5 at Carleton University at ottawafarmersmarket.ca.

Keep your eye out for a couple of new vendors.

Carolina Foresti, a fourth-generation baker and pastry chef from Brazil, is at the market for the first year with her Dulce de Leche sauce and five types of irresistible brownies, made with Belgian chocolate and local eggs. All you need to pick up for a delectable dessert is a pint of Pascale’s ice cream, available at a stand just around the corner.

Also new to this market is Michael Sunderland, with his michaelsdolce line of beautiful, jewel-toned jams. New flavours this spring include Rhubarb and Black Pepper, made with the new crop of Ontario rhubarb. Zesty and slightly spicy, it would be wonderful paired with cheese, perhaps Clarmell’s chèvre, on a cracker, or perhaps with some simply grilled meat.

For more, see ottawafarmersmarket.ca.

The Main Farmers’ Market, which operates Saturdays at St. Paul University, also started for the season last weekend. The Metcalfe and Carp farmers’ markets start for the season this Saturday — in honour of Mother’s Day, the first 100 moms to arrive at the Carp Market get a free bar of soap from Opeongo Mountain Meadow. The Bayshore branch of Ottawa Farmer’s Markets starts May 16 while the Orleans branch gets underway May 18. The Old Chelsea Market starts May 19.

5. Or you can go visit the farm

Picking up fresh, local produce at area markets is a sensory experience. Going to a farm and actually seeing the rows of tomatoes in the sun, tasting a carrot pulled fresh from the soil, is even more satisfying — and possibly astounding for city-raised children.

Rainbow Heritage Garden, a sixth-generation farm near Cobden that’s entirely off the grid, is an eye-opening and inspiring place to visit for all ages. Growers Kylah Dobson, 28, and her husband Zach Loeks, 26, are putting on an open house and farm tour on Saturday, June 2. You can join a guided walking tour at 3 p.m. that will include the solar-powered farm centre, new earth-cooled root cellar, fruit orchard and extensive market garden. There will be a crafts table for kids and you can even take a dish and join a potluck picnic about 5 p.m. or sign up for a CSA share, in which you will receive a weekly basket of produce fresh from the farm.

Rainbow Heritage Garden is about a 90-minute drive from central Ottawa; for more on the farm and the tour, see rainbowheritage.ca.

Belgian Chocolate Raspberry Meringues

Makes: 3 dozen

■ 2 egg whites

■ 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) vanilla

■ 1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) cream of tartar

■ 2 to 3 drops raspberry flavour (see note)

■ A drop or two of food colour if you want a brighter pink shade

■ 2/3 cup (150 mL) sugar

■ 2/3 cup (150 mL) Callebaut dark chocolate chips (see note), chopped into smaller pieces

1. Place egg whites in a medium mixing bowl; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 300 F (150 C). Lightly grease a cookie sheet; set aside.

2. Add vanilla and cream of tartar to egg whites. Beat until soft peaks form (tips curl). Add raspberry flavour and colour if desired. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon (15 mL) at a time, beating until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). Fold in chocolate pieces.

3. Drop by rounded teaspoons 2 inches (5 cm) apart onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake 20 minutes or until firm and bottoms are light brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Note: You can buy small bottles of concentrated raspberry flavour at Bulk Barn. Callebaut chocolate chips are available at Farm Boy and Ottawa Bagelshop.

lrobin@ottawacitizen.com

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