Author: Sweet Pepper

Local love! Support The Stop at The Sweet Potato

A guest post, written by our friends at The Stop Community Food Center.

Hey there! We’re The Stop Community Food Centre, a local charity that uses good food to bring people together, to build community, and to challenge inequality.

Our friends at The Sweet Potato have been supporting our work for years with their annual holiday food drives and fundraisers. Thanks to generous Sweet Potato customers, we’ve been able to distribute thousands of pounds of healthy and delicious groceries to people in our community who are struggling with food insecurity.

Now that COVID-19 has dramatically increased the need for our emergency food services, The Sweet Potato team have stepped up in another incredible show of solidarity—every time you add a cash donation to The Stop to your grocery bill, they’ll double it!

Here’s a little about what you’re supporting:

The Stop was one of Canada’s first food banks back in the early 80’s, but since then we’ve blossomed into a thriving community hub, with dozens of programs that focus on good food grown, cooked, and served with dignity.

We’ve got three locations: At 1884 Davenport Road, we provide frontline services to our community, including a drop-in meal program, healthy food bank, perinatal supports, peer advocacy, good food markets, and community kitchens. At our Green Barn inside Artscape Wychwood Barns at 601 Christie Street, we run a greenhouse, a sheltered garden, community bake oven, and compost demonstration centre—along with our year-round Farmers’ Market. Finally, The Stop’s Wychwood Open Door at 729 St. Clair West is our newest location. It’s a daytime drop-in centre that brings community members together around good food and enriching activities.

Uniting all of our sites and programs is the fierce belief that healthy, sustainable, and culturally appropriate food should be accessible to everyone.

Like everyone who works with food, The Stop has had to change a lot since COVID-19. We’ve closed most of our programs, but we’re still keeping our community fed and connected by offering emergency food services to people struggling with food security during the pandemic.

In the last two months, we’ve:

  • Distributed over 1,200 long-lasting, healthy hampers in our Food Bank.
  • Served an average of 350 hearty takeout meals every single weekday.
  • Operated a daily phone-in support line for people in crisis.
  • Grown thousands of seedlings that will soon become fresh produce that we’ll share with our community.

We’re so grateful to all the community members who’ve stepped up to support our work during this difficult time.

And to The Sweet Potato, who like us, believe that eating healthy (and deliciously) is a right, not a privilege!

To learn more about The Stop Community Food Centre, and our food security work in West end Toronto, visit our website and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to see daily posts on our work and impact.

Freeze your own fruits & veggies!

Image by Vegan Photo, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Frozen food! So convenient, so easy! And also, sometimes, pretty expensive :/ but good news! If you’ve got access to fresh produce, a freezer, and a bit of time, it’s super cheap and easy to prep your own frozen fruits & veggies!

The basics:

  1. Always wash your produce, and dry it thoroughly before freezing. 
  2. Most fruit and vegetables freeze extremely well, with the notable exception of things that are mostly water, like cucumbers, lettuce, and watermelons. 
  3. Before freezing, cut things into uniformly sized pieces. 
  4. When you’re ready to freeze, line a baking sheet (or anything flat that will fit in your freezer) with a piece of parchment paper and spread your produce over it in a single layer, making sure the pieces aren’t touching.  This allows the pieces to freeze separately from each other, so that when the time comes you can defrost only what you need.
  5. Once the produce is fully frozen, transfer it to a freezer bag, label and date it, and move on to the next batch!
  6. Generally speaking, frozen fruit and veggies can keep for 8 to 12 months (with the exception of citrus fruit, which is only recommended to freeze for up to 3 months).

Regarding freezer storage: one of the things that causes Freezer Burn is air pockets, which is why we recommend freezer bags instead of tupperware or other containers.  These bags definitely don’t have to be single-use – freezer bags are very thick and tough, so they can easily be washed and reused again and again 😀

For Veggies:

  • Most vegetables freeze extremely well, albeit after blanching. Onions and peppers can be frozen without blanching.  Tomatoes can freeze extremely well, but they require extra prep work.
  • Blanching helps frozen veggies retain their colour and firmness.  To blanch vegetables, first cut ’em into uniformly sized pieces, and then dunk ‘em in boiling water (or steam, for broccoli, winter squash, and sweet potatoes) for a short time and then immediately move them to an ice water bath for as long as they were boiled or steamed.  Most vegetables have different times for best blanching, so while you can just blanch everything for about 2 minutes (that’s what we do), for optimal results you should check online for the specifics about whatever you’re preparing to freeze.
  • After the ice-bath, dry the veggies carefully and resume step 4, above.

For Fruit:

  • Fruit freezes incredibly easily and well! You mostly just need to wash, dry, and slice it up prior to freezeing.
  • If you want to prevent browning (in things like apples, peaches, nectarines and apricots), you can dip the fruit in a lemon-water bath (1 tablespoon of lemon juice in 4 cups of water) before freezing.

Some produce items don’t fit in to the general instructions above, including:

  • Bananas freeze extremely well in their peels, but subsequently the peels can be difficult to remove.  If you’re planning on using whole bananas, and have time to thaw them (like for baking applications), you can freeze them whole, but maybe also consider peeling and slicing them and freezing the individual pieces like other fruit.
  • Stone fruit can get a bitter taste from leaving their pits in prior to freezing – so be sure to remove the pits from cherries, nectarines, peaches and plums before freezing.
  • Tomatoes are best when their skins are removed prior to freezing.  Simply cut an “X” in the top of the tomato and immerse it in boiling water for about 30 seconds.  At that point, the skin should come off very easily, and you can either scoop out the seeds and freeze them individually (as described above), or make a simple sauce and then freeze that in bulk.

Now get freezing!

For additional resources, you can start with this great page from the David Suzuki Foundation.

Baby Wipes, Fast & Slow

A few years ago, I got really into making pasta. I didn’t (and still don’t) have a pasta maker, so for me the process involved making the dough by hand, and then rolling it out on my counter, and then cutting it into shape with a knife.  It took a bit of work, but what came out was some of the best, tastiest pasta I’ve ever had in my life. This is it, I told myself, now I’m a homemade pasta guy.  As a matter of fact, it tasted so good, I ate fresh pasta for the next four nights.  And that’s when it hit me – homemade pasta is really easy to make, and it’s really, really good – but I’m not sure it’s two hours of work when you just want a bowl of spaghetti good.

The same is true of baby wipes.  Baby wipes are one of those things that might seem like an unnecessary indulgence – right up until you find yourself with a messy baby, in a messy house, and without any of the sleep that might have left you feeling up to the challenge.  Don’t get me wrong, the world would probably be a much better place if we made everything from scratch all the time, but it’s important to pick your battles – and while we’re all working to make rent or mortgage payments, and trying to snatch a bit of sleep when you can, and stressing about keeping your new little baby alive, maybe that’s not the best time to take on a new and labour-intensive DIY project.

But maybe it is! If you do have a supportive partner, and a baby who sleeps through the night, and the time and resources to satisfy your burning desire to D-I-Y, this sounds like a fantastic project:

D-I-Y Baby Wipes

You will need:

  • 2 cups distilled water (or at very least, water that has been boiled & let to cool)
  • 2 tbsp oil (either almond or olive) – this helps it go on smoothly
  • 1 tbsp unscented castile soap – this is for cleaning

You may also want:

  • 2 tbsp pure aloe vera – this is for soothing
  • 1 tsp witch hazel extract – this is for disinfecting, and has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Simply combine the ingredients and mix well.

If you are going the route of reusable wipes, store the mixture in a sealed bottle or spray bottle, and then just pour it onto clean cloths as needed. When you’re done using the wipes, wash them in your washing machine on the hot or disinfect cycle (just like reusable diapers).

If you want to DIY disposable wipes: cut a roll of paper towels in half (so that you’ve got two half-sized rolls of paper towel). Put one of them into a sealable container that is only slightly bigger than the roll, and pour the liquid into the container. Seal it, and turn it over (so the liquid entirely saturates the roll). After about 5 minutes, right the container, open the lid, and remove the cardboard tube in the middle of the roll – it should come out easily now that it’s saturated with liquid. Now you can just pull wipes as needed from the middle of the roll! Note: wipes done this way tend to get dry or musty after about 3 days, so please plan accordingly.


D-F-Y Baby Wipes

If the above sounds like too much work (and like I said above, there is no shame in picking your battles – all of those fancy personalities who have made great careers out of showing how easy it is to do things yourself have, like, a lot of off-camera staff that we never see), just grab the best Done For You wipes that you can find. We really like the Free And Clear wipes from Seventh Generation. They’re plant-based, hypoallergenic, free of alcohol, parabens, and fragrances, and maybe best of all – they’re Done For You!

It’s Too Dang Hot: Kaitlyn’s Easy Bean Salad

Even when it’s too hot to think about turning on the oven, we still want to help you keep cool and well-fed. Try one of our no-heat recipes, all of which are tried-and-true and come directly from members of The Yam Fam!

These are all no-heat, no stress recipe. If you don’t have the right quantities, work with what you’ve got. If you don’t have all the ingredients, go substitution wild. When it’s too hot to cook, it’s WAY too hot to stress!

Continue reading “It’s Too Dang Hot: Kaitlyn’s Easy Bean Salad”

It’s Too Dang Hot: Kaitlyn’s Heat-Beatin’ Ceviche

Even when it’s too hot to think about turning on the oven, we still want to help you keep cool and well-fed. Try one of our no-heat recipes, all of which are tried-and-true and come directly from members of The Yam Fam!

These are mostly no-heat, no stress recipes, but we do encourage a bit of care when making Ceviche. Since this is actually a form of cooking (albeit using chemistry in the place of heat) please make sure that you’ve got your bases covered before engaging in substitutions. When it’s too hot to cook, it’s WAY too hot to stress – but it’s never too hot for food safety. Bon appétit!

Continue reading “It’s Too Dang Hot: Kaitlyn’s Heat-Beatin’ Ceviche”

It’s Too Dang Hot: Amanda’s Red Cabbage Slaw

Even when it’s too hot to think about turning on the oven, we still want to help you keep cool and well-fed. Try one of our no-heat recipes, all of which are tried-and-true and come directly from members of The Yam Fam!

These are all no-heat, no stress recipe. If you don’t have the right quantities, work with what you’ve got. If you don’t have all the ingredients, go substitution wild. When it’s too hot to cook, it’s WAY too hot to stress!

Continue reading “It’s Too Dang Hot: Amanda’s Red Cabbage Slaw”

Help Us Help The Stop CFC!

Image courtesy The Stop Community Food Center / Zoe Alexopoulos

If you’re not familiar with them, The Stop CFC (community food center) is a really interesting organization. They started in the early 1980’s as a food bank, but have since transformed into… well, into a community food center! They offer cooking classes, community gardens, they offer support groups and community advocacy, they teach perinatal nutrition and host movie nights… the list goes on and on, but the main point here is that after adding all these other services, they are still also a food bank.

The Stop strives to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality.

Here at The Sweet Potato, we are big fans of The Stop. Their mandate is actually very similar to our own, and they do amazing work in our community – which is why we support them as much as we can.

This December, we are again running our annual Food Drive in Support of The Stop.  We’ve got a bin set up inside the store for donations of dry goods, and we’re also matching all monetary donations dollar-for-dollar.

If you are able to give, they have provided us with a list of their most-requested items:

  • Canned fish
  • Peanut butter (or any sort of nut butter)
  • Dried beans (or canned beans) – especially Kidney Beans
  • Pasta
  • Gluten-Free pasta
  • Pasta sauce
  • Brown Rice

Anything you are able to provide would be great; we think they do really great work, and we are eager to support them as much as we can.  If you want to read more about them, you can visit their website, where you can sign up for an event, volunteer, or just learn about all the great stuff they do.

We hope you’ll help us help them make sure everyone has a warm, happy, and well-fed holiday season!

A Holiday for Everyone

There’s something special about the meals associated with winter holidays. Something about a set and laden table, with the cold dark just outside the windows – it makes things feel particularly comfy, and wholesome, and welcoming.

And with that spirit in mind, we want to make sure that our holiday meals are open and accessible to everyone, not just folks who share our personal preferences for what to eat and drink. We try hard to accommodate different diets and lifestyles, so that everyone we love can come together and be thankful in joy and deliciousness:

First, there’s always our perfect roast turkey recipe and delicious cranberry sauce. In addition to that, and the many yummy veggie dishes, we always like to have at least one more hearty main dish that isn’t meat based. We love the sound of this vegan meatloaf, but in a pinch we might just grab one of the frozen Vegan Roasts we sell at the store.

Like a lot of other of people, we like to cook our stuffing outside the bird – this allows the bird to cook more quickly and evenly, makes sure the stuffing itself is cooked properly, and most importantly lets us make several different kids of stuffing, including ones for our friends who are vegan and paleo or keto.

Many of our favourite veggie dishes are already totally vegan-friendly, like our Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Shitaaki Miso Gravy, Roasted Maple Delicata Squash, and Mashed Sweet Potatoes; others can be made so with just one or two easy substitutions, like our Crispy Brussel Sprouts, made with nutritional yeast instead of Parmesan, and our beloved Grean Beans with Garlicky Pine Nuts, in which we just omit the butter.

For dessert, we like to serve a variety of fresh fruit, as well as our vegan-friendly Peach Sorbet; this year we’re planning on making a paleo-AND-keto friendly avocado ice cream!

As well as food, though, it’s always important to us that our place be really accessible and inviting – both physically and emotionally. That is very much an ongoing process, and it starts by asking some simple questions about what we can do to help our guests (including the ones we don’t know yet!) navigate our space with ease and comfort. While this article is more concerned with having a large dance-type party, the questions it asks and points it raises are a great starting point to help you throw parties for everyone. Which is the goal, really – because aren’t good times even better when they’re shared?  

Happy holidays!