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It was my husband’s birthday yesterday, and as he often pines for Jaffa Cakes (as well as pies), I thought I’d try my hand at making some. They’re one of those very British products that I’ve never spotted for sale in Sudbury, so we’ve occasionally ordered them online from The Scottish Loft in Niagara-on-the-Lake. And I’m sure they’re available at all other good British import stores too :-)

I’d bookmarked a vegan Jaffa Cake recipe a long time ago and saved it to my collection in onetsp. I couldn’t locate the web site for that particular version but found what may be the original recipe here, helpfully converted to cups.  Although I prefer to weigh my ingredients for baking, my scales are so unreliable so I was happy to get out the measuring cups. I just had to do a little hunting for ingredients beforehand. My husband is diabetic, so I wanted to make a reduced sugar version.

Bag of flour and jar of marmalade

North American recipes typically don’t seem to use self-raising flour, so I wasn’t surprised to only find one brand at the grocery store–Brodie self raising cake & pastry flour. We’ve been moving over to Stevia in our house instead of Splenda, but as I still have a big bag of Splenda to use up, it was destined for the Jaffa Cakes instead of castor sugar. For a marmalade substitute I picked Smucker’s no sugar added orange spread. This is actually a mix of fruit and concentrated white grape juice.  The chocolate chips were regular old semi-sweet President’s Choice ones, so we couldn’t avoid the sugar entirely

The recipe is supposed to make 12-15 cakes. I ended up with 12, because I couldn’t be bothered greasing an extra tray :-) So, our Jaffa Cakes were on the fat side–as was I after scooping all the spare chocolate mixture out of the pan :-) I followed the baking time exactly, using the middle oven rack, and it worked perfectly.

Jaffa Cakes at pre-chocolate stage

These were really simple to make. The only slightly fiddly bit was spreading the ‘marmalade’ onto the bases. Here is my version.

Vegan, reduced-sugar Jaffa Cakes

Ingredients

1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup Splenda
100 ml soy milk
50ml canola oil (rapeseed oil if you’re in the UK)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup dairy-free margarine
grated zest of half an orange
marmalade or equivalent–about 1tsp per cake

Method

Grease a bun tray and pre-heat oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4

For the base, mix flour and sweetener until just combined. Then add the milk, oil, and vanilla extract. Spoon into tray and bake for about 8 minutes.

Cool in the tray for 2 minutes, the remove the cakes to cool on a wire rack. When they have completely cooled, spread a thin layer of marmalade over each cake.

For the chocolate topping, melt margarine and chocolate chips over a low heat, stirring constantly. Then remove from heat and add the orange zest.

This is the messy part: spoon on the chocolate topping to completely cover each cake. Make sure you have a plate underneath to catch the drips! Place in the fridge, still on the wire rack, for as long as needed to set. Enjoy!
Adding chocolate topping onto Jaffa Cakes

Here in Northern Ontario, we’ve had record temperatures for November! In past years there would usually have been snow on the ground by now and we’d be settling into the long winter. But last weekend I was on the road with my husband in our Corvette, for our final trip of the year.

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We took one of our favourite scenic routes via Field, stopping off for a quick peek inside Marten River Provincial Park. Sadly it’s all closed up for the season now, so we parked by the gate and had a quick stroll down to the water.

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Then it was on to one of our regular eating spots – Average Joe’s, overlooking Trout Lake in North Bay. It was beautiful looking out onto the water with the sun streaming in. I had delicious flatbread with roasted veggies (with enough to take home for Monday’s lunch!) followed up by a “Peppermint Patty”–peppermint schnapps with hot chocolate. Mmm!

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The next day we managed to fit in a final car wash before putting the vette away for the winter. So this year for once I’m actually fairly organised and have most of my winter prep jobs done before the snow and freezing temperatures arrive! There’s nothing worse than fumbling with numb fingers to finish outdoor jobs in below zero. Sadly I’m less organised with Christmas gifts as I’ve missed the surface mail deadline for Europe by a long way.

Now Hallowe’en is over and the clocks have gone back, we’re full swing into the Christmas season. Sudbury has its annual Santa Claus parade coming up–always held in November to avoid the worst of the weather. Plus there’s the Festival of Lights at Science North. I hope to get to at least one of these events this year. We also have many local craft fairs, ideal for gift hunting.

As an immigrant, it can definitely take a while to adjust to the shifting seasons and the change in routine this brings. But I’ve found that learning about and participating in those seasonal rituals and traditions is part of what makes you start to feel really at home here. More than ever, I feel very lucky to be living in Canada. If you’re reading this and interested in moving here, but have no idea where to start, please get in touch. I’m happy to try and help point you in the right direction.

I like to sneak in a food post now and again, as it seems that food is my main obsession in life :) I’ve written before about the delicious pies my husband makes at Christmas. For Thanksgiving, I tried out Dreena Burton’s Festive chickpea tart, complete with traditional cranberry sauce. I loved this so much I’ll be making more to serve up again at Christmas, this time with my favourite, easy gravy from Robin Robertson’s Vegetarian meat & potatoes book.

Festive Chickpea Tart

Festive Chickpea Tart

For snacks and gifts, I’ve made up a big batch of Dreena Burton’s softly spiced nuts recipe (from Eat, drink and be vegan). I’ve always had good comments about these and make them every year – usually several times as they never last very long. And as an alternative to cookies, I tried out Angela Liddon’s famous “Glo Bars”, included in her Oh She Glows cookbook. These were definitely a success. I’m also thinking of trying to make a tunis cake. Tunis cake was always (and still is) part of my family’s Christmas, but I’ve never been able to find them here. So it’ll be fun to try and recreate it.

Glo bars

Glo bars

 

Of course not everyone will be into my plan for a veggie Christmas dinner :) A typical Christmas meal in Canada would be turkey with all the trimmings. Canadian Living has a guide to cooking a classic Canadian Christmas menu. Or you could try a menu with more of a French-Canadian flavour, courtesy of Chatelaine magazine. And if you’ve ever watched Christmas Vacation (a Christmas Eve tradition in our house!) and wondered what eggnog is, find out here or here for a egg/dairy-free version.

Eggnog

Eggnog

However you’re celebrating, and whatever you’re eating over the holidays– Happy Christmas!

 

When I’m out and about, I love to try different eateries. Here are some of my favourites.

White Owl Bistro (North Bay)
I always enjoy visiting North Bay for a stroll on the waterfront, then eating at the White Owl.  I love the cosy, classy atmosphere and they have a really interesting menu with choices you don’t typically see elsewhere. Just browsing the current menu makes me feel so hungry… curried avocado kale salad, roasted sweet potato and Portobello panini,  Thai wrap…

Spring Basil (Alliston)
Spring Basil was an unexpected find on the return leg of a trip to southern Ontario. If possible, we always like to avoid the main highways and meander on the back roads and this brought us to Alliston, close to Barrie. They have a huge range of veggie choices plus a selection of bubble teas, which I enjoyed trying for the first time.

ly tofu! Dinner at "Spring Basil"

Dinner at “Spring Basil”

The Keg (St Catharines)
I typically prefer to try independent restaurants instead of chains, but had to include this one as we’ve had many memorable meals there when visiting the Niagara region. The building is a converted mill, so it’s definitely not your typical Keg. I always used to order tempura snap peas and aspargus, but I think they’ve taken it off the menu now. Please bring it back!

Red Dog Grill (Whitefish Falls)
The Red Dog is popular with tourists and locals and it’s always nice to go back there each summer and chat with the owner. There are quite a few Tex-Mex choices on the menu to match the Mexican-inspired decor, as well as plenty of fish dishes. They also have beautiful artwork for sale displayed on the walls. The stunning local scenery attracts lots of artists to the area and there’s a big art show in Whitefish Falls every year.

The Red Dog Grill, Whitefish Falls

The Red Dog Grill, Whitefish Falls

Anchor Grill (Little Current)
Travel on a bit further over the swing bridge and you come to Little Current, the gateway to Manitoulin Island. I must have eaten at the Anchor Grill several times each year since I moved here, sometimes as a couple, sometimes with big groups, and the food is always fantastic. My husband is always on the look out for places that serve proper fish and chips (as opposed to fish and fries :) ) and this place definitely makes the grade. Plus they have always have several interesting veggie choices. If you’re lucky you can grab the prime seats for a waterfront view.

Jak’s (Sudbury)
Jak’s is a bit of a Sudbury institution and gets voted “best breakfast” restaurant every year in a local media poll. Friendly, efficient service and a good, unpretentious breakfast and lunch menu. Great for when you wake up feeling lazy (that would be me most weekends :) ).  It’s usually fruit and toast for me, but my husband enjoys some of the heartier options. And although I’ve never tried them, they always have a fabulous array of different sweet pies on offer.

Kinniwabi Pines (Wawa)
Fine dining in Wawa? Definitely! I’d been reading good reviews of the Kinniwabi Pines for years before we finally got around to trying it on the return leg of our Lake Superior Circle Tour.  It’s a beautiful restaurant and definitely a “fine dining” experience. It’s a very diverse menu including cuisine from Trinidad, Asia, and Europe. (I’ve eaten at both the #1 and #2 rated Wawa restaurants listed on Trip Advisor, and the Kinniwabi Pines should be #1, no question.)

View over the Michipicoten River from the Kinniwabi Pines

View over the Michipicoten River from the Kinniwabi Pines

The Norseman (Huntsville)
My husband and I visited the Norseman for a wonderful anniversary dinner way back before we’d even moved here. We were enjoying a winter vacation in Muskoka and thought we’d try the Norseman as it was close to the cottage resort where we were staying. I don’t think they’d ever had much call for veggie cuisine (at least back then), but the chef rose to the occasion and prepared some delicious dishes. The restaurant is part of the Walker Lake resort, so if you’re too full to move after your meal, you can stay over in one of the lakeside cottages.

Parlour Inn (Stratford)
Last year, we stayed and ate at the Parlour Inn right in the heart of Stratford. Very unusually for us, we actually made a reservation as we knew it would be busy with theatre goers, plus we had our own appointment with “Crazy for You” that evening and didn’t want to be rushing to get there. My dish of the night was a veggie chow mein with tofu. As befits a “vintage inn” (built in the late 1800s), the decor is beautiful with stained glass windows and intricate woodwork. I’d like to return out of season when it’s a little quieter.

Dinner at the Parlour Inn, Stratford, Ontario

Dinner at the Parlour Inn, Stratford, Ontario

Olde Angel Inn (Niagara on the Lake)
Now and then it’s fun to have a taste of the “olde country.” We’ve tried a few different British-style pubs, but my favourite was the Angel Inn. It’s no doubt packed in high season, but provided a quiet cozy spot for dinner during a winter trip. And the log fire was very welcome! Established in 1789 and rebuilt after the War of 1812, it bills itself as “Ontario’s oldest operating inn.” The menu is packed with traditional British favourite such as bangers and mash, Ploughman’s lunch, and Yorkshire pudding.

Next on my list to try is the Garden’s Gate Restaurant in Tehkummah on Manitoulin Island. Look out for a review in a few weeks.

I was reminded of the British pie obsession just recently when the CBC As is Happens radio show ran a piece about the World Pie Eating Championship in Wigan, England. There was all sorts of chaos as the contestants were forced to tackle non-regulation size pies. The shame of it!

When people talk about pies here in Northern Ontario, they are usually referring to freshly baked sweet pies– apple, blueberry, lemon, coconut… mmm! I remember stopping off for lunch at a Mennonite bakery last year in the Waterloo area. The shelves were overflowing with freshly baked fruit pies, and not surprisingly the line-ups were huge.

Sweet pies are big business here, but savoury pies or pasties not so much.  My local Superstore (one of the big grocery chains in Canada) has various pies in the freezer section, but it’s not quite the same as picking up a fresh pie or pasty from a bakery. They stocked proper pork pies for a while and every time they appeared I bought them up in huge quantities for my husband. He really misses his pies!

During holiday season, however, it’s a different story. For Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve, enter the tourtière! Tourtière is a meat pie with a shortcrust pastry case, French-Canadian in origin.  Typical fillings would be beef or pork, often combined with potato, cinnamon and cloves, but the recipe has lots of regional variations.

My husband’s usual pie-making activities have been curtailed this season (more to come on that), so when I heard that tourtières were available to order from the student centre at the college where I work, I gratefully ordered one, sliced it up and stored it in the freezer ready for Christmas and New Year celebrations. I also prepared my veggie version: veggie ground round (mince), chickpeas and kidney beans mixed with gravy and veggies.

Happy New Year!

Festive Pie

Festive Pie

 

I was thrown into a panic last week when I saw the headline “Canada orders Briton to stop selling Marmite and Irn-Bru.” Irn-Bru I can happily live without—in fact I’ve never tried it—but give up my Marmite? That’s a scary proposition.

The British yeast extract spread is one of those things you either love or loathe and I was firmly in the loathe camp until my husband introduced me to “special beans on toast with Marmite” about 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve become an addict and Marmite on toast is my daily snack when I get in from work. Plus it’s a great source of B12 and a great flavour enhancer for veggie dishes. So why would Canada want to ban it?

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Apparently Marmite contains vitamins not permitted to be added to food spreads in Canada. This has me confused as I thought vitamins were generally a good thing. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is now assessing the products for safety – hopefully dressed in full protective clothing. They wouldn’t want to take any chances there.

The CFIA does admit that there’s not actually any threat to public safety; it’s more of a “technical violation.” Nonetheless, this has me worried. Should I go and buy up all the remaining jars of Marmite left in Sudbury? Will people soon start trading in illegal Marmite? And worst of all, will I be forced to switch to Vegemite?

And just in case you think that I’m obsessed, take a look at this site to hear the Marmite rap and read about the man who loves it so much, he actually changed his name to Marmite…

In early October, my husband needed to make a stop in Waterloo to collect some Corvette parts. Rather than going there and back in a day (Sudbury to Waterloo is about four hours) we decided to make a weekend of it by staying overnight in Guelph. Although I’d visited the Guelph/Waterloo area before, I’d never had time to do any hiking there and was keen to try out some of the local trails as well as sampling the local restaurants.

After collecting the parts, we still had a whole Saturday afternoon ahead of us, so I decided we should head to the Elora Gorge conservation area, promoted in the tourist leaflets as one of the most scenic spots in Southern Ontario.

Elora Gorge Conservation Area

Elora Gorge Conservation Area

Access is regulated with barriers and ticket kiosks and costs $5.75 for the day for adults and $3.00 for under-15s . The trail network is not very extensive–just 3km in total–with lots of fences and warnings to keep away from the cliff edge. It was certainly very busy on the trails with a mix of locals and enthusiastic tourists photographing everything in sight, even the graffiti! If you’re not into hiking, many other activities are available such as camping, tubing, fishing, and a splashpad.

 On the menu for Saturday night was the Fat Duck Bistro in Guelph, a British-style “gastro pub.” Previously I’ve been to the Shakespeare Arms (within reasonable walking distance from the Best Western). They both have similar menus with hearty comfort food such as savoury pies and curries–the type of dishes you don’t see too often on a typical “Canadian” restaurant menu. In keeping with the British spirit, I enjoyed some Strongbow cider, made in my home county of Herefordshire.

For anyone thinking of moving to Guelph, our cab driver was very enthusiastic about the area, citing it as one of the safest places to live in Canada and telling us that they  typically don’t have much snow before January. She advised avoiding the downtown at weekends when the university students are around—which is probably good advice for anywhere with a sizeable student population.

We started Sunday with a driving tour on country roads – through Fergus and Arthur, then east to Erin and Mono Cliffs. The Hills of Headwaters area, as it’s branded, has beautiful scenery with rolling hills and rivers; it’s not hard to understand why so many Torontonians buy second homes in this area. If you want to check out some huge country mansions, just take a drive through the Caledon area.

Mono Cliffs Park

Mono Cliffs Park

Mono Cliffs Park was more my sort of hiking than Elora Gorge–longer trails and less crowds, although a popular spot for dog walkers and families enjoying the warm weather and fall colours. The somewhat optimistically-described “lakes” were more like pools it has to be said, but it’s a very pretty park and one I’d like to return to. Also, you’re not forced to pay for a whole day if you’re only staying a few hours.

We took a scenic route home, stopping off at an Asian restaurant in Alliston near Barrie: Spring Basil. There was a huge menu. After spending a while trying to decipher which dishes were vegetarian, I turned the page to find two whole pages worth of veggie fare! I also got to try bubble tea–a first for me. And my husband–not usually a tea fan–enjoyed it too.

 

ly tofu! Dinner at "Spring Basil"

Yes–it’s really tofu! Dinner at “Spring Basil”

The colours here in Northern Ontario are now categorised as “past peak,” but there are still opportunities further south to view some amazing fall colours. Checkout the Ontario Parks Fall Colour Report or the Fall Colour Progression Report for more information.

 

As a longtime vegetarian, I was a bit apprehensive–from a food perspective that is–about moving to Canada. But In fact, I needn’t have worried. Around 4% of Canadians now follow a vegetarian diet and it wasn’t as difficult as I expected to find vegetarian ready meals and products.

Veggie ground round

Browse the aisles

Many grocery stores carry quite a wide range of vegetarian and vegan products. One of the more well-known brands is Yves Veggie, which offers a huge range of meat substitutes such as veggie bacon, turkey slices, and pizza pepperoni . These are readily available at most major supermarkets.  Gardein is another popular Canadian-based option and there are also “own-brand” options such as President’s Choice Blue Menu. Daiya “cheese” is also more widely available now. One tip: vegetarian mince (as I knew it in the UK) is known here as “Ground Round.”scallopini

Buy in bulk

Also check out Bulk Barn  It claims to be Canada’s largest bulk food retailer and has stores across Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island They have a wide variety of sauce and soup mixes, a veggie chilli mix and tofu, as well as vitamins, herbal remedies and natural skincare products. They also have a great range of teas, coffees and home baking products, so well worth a look.

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Make your own menu!

Most restaurants here offer quite a decent number of vegetarian options, even in the smaller towns. And of course if you’re in one of the big cities, you’ll have no problem getting hold of all sorts of cuisine. Vegan is slightly tougher, but as plant-based diets are becoming more mainstream  I’m starting to see a few vegan options slowly creeping onto menus. There is such an emphasis on good customer service here, so even if you do come across a restaurant that doesn’t have any suitable options they are usually happy to make or adapt something for you.

Not long after moving to Canada, I ended up at Red Lobster for dinner. As the name would suggest, definitely no veggie options happening here! There was nothing on the menu I could eat, so I asked for a baked potato with a sauce and side veggies. They were quite happy to prepare this for me and one of the other diners actually ordered the same meal because it looked so good!

Join a group

There’s a large network of vegetarian societies across Canada that offer cookery classes and pot-luck suppers among their activities. Joining a local group offers an ideal opportunity to make new friends and find out more about the best places to shop  for veggie products. Here are a few links to get you started.

Vegetarians of Alberta 

Toronto Vegetarian Association
Organisers of the annual Vegetarian Food Festival at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre

Winnipeg Vegetarian Association

Ottawa Vegetarian Society

Vancouver Island Vegetarian Association

Vegan Dad – this was one of my favourite blogs. Sadly it’s no longer updated, but it’s still fun to browse the archives about this Northern Ontario Dad and his adventures bringing up his four children on a vegan diet.