We are going on a food holiday…

If the holidays were happening on a desert island, these are the products we’d pack to be ready for anything, from surprise visits from Uncle Allan and Aunt Bonnie to setting a sweet holiday spread. If our island had a pantry (and a fridge, and a freezer, you get the picture), these are the essentials we’d stock them with.

 

Camino Hot Chocolate Mix

 

It’s like a hug in a mug, covered in chocolate! Camino’s Organic Fair Trade Hot Chocolate Mixes are on #SweetDeal for $2 off right now.

 

 

So Delicious Coconut Holiday Nog

 

Whoever thought to kick up already rich and creamy nog by making it coconut-based is seriously a genius. Bonus: your vegan friends will be chuffed! Try it this season at 2 for $7!  

 

Gardein Holiday Roasts

 

You know how many vegetarian recipes promise to be loved by vegetarians and meat eaters alike? Well, this one actually is. Definitely treat your plant-based guests to one of these, and stuff a few extra in your freezer. They’re wicked easy to cook up once the leftovers are long gone and you find yourself craving holiday flavours.

 

Fiasco Holiday Gelato – Cranberry and Pear Sorbetto, Egg Nog

 

Tart cranberries. Slow poached pears. Rich, indulgent, frozen dessert. Egg. Nog. Need we say more? Grab a spoon at our soup counter… at least one of these babies ain’t making it home.

 

Alvéole Honey Tasting Box

 

What if you could taste the terroir of Toronto’s Junction, Leslieville, Cabbagetown, and Rosedale ‘hoods? Alvéole’s flight of premium grade honeys is that opportunity, each jar flavoured with the flora of this sweet city. This is a gift you’ll want to keep for yourself, but you *should* really use to flaunt how simultaneously cultured and cool you are.

 

Sweet Potato Kitchen Holiday Cookies

 

Listen, if Santa can’t get through them all, you’ll just have to step up and devour our holiday cookies. For the sake of the children. On #SweetDeal (3 for $5!), they are sweet satisfaction (and frankly, survival). So stock up. For Santa. Yeah. Santa.

 

Real Sweets Apple Pie

 

If you neither competed on nor auditioned for The Great Canadian Baking Show, you’re going to want to have one of these pies on-hand. You may or may not have the time or talent to produce a pie of this calibre… we ain’t judging. We’re just sayin’… these locally made, all natural, all butter crust pies (made with simple Non-GMO and organic ingredients to boot) are unreal.

 

Aura Cacia Bath Salt Packets

 

Guests are gone. Bath is drawn. Relax. Detox. Bring either the gelato or the pie into the tub with you…

 

 

 

One With Nature Soaps

 

As if you needed more reasons to buy these triple milled, Non-GMO, cruelty-free Dead Sea soap bars… these Sweet Stocking Stuffers are #SweetDeal right now!

 

 

Natural Factors Vitamin D Softgels

 

What does vitamin D do? The nutritionists at our new Natural Apothecary know. And our moms know. It’s so important that mom nags us about it every winter, and stuffed our stockings with it. As grown ups, it’s our responsibility to carry on the tradition. Here’s to the things we know are good for us… but don’t quite know why. And here’s to $4.99/bottle on #SweetDeal, too!

 

Let’s Talk Turkey: To Brine or Not to Brine?

Let’s talk turkey.

 

Often the centrepiece of a big holiday meal, it’s kind of crucial. It’s also easy to overcook and/or underflavour. So what’s a cook to do? Brine the bird! Brining is your ticket to a moist, delicious turkey. Read on to learn the difference between wet and dry brining, and the pros and cons of each.

 

Option 1: Wet Brine

 

Advantages:

  • relatively easy
  • proven effective
  • relatively quick
  • communicates to nosy/snobby relatives that you’re working hard to make the best meal possible

 

Disadvantages:

  • requires a lot of space
  • cooling your large pot of brine outside in the city of trash pandas is risky business

 

Basically, wet brining (aka what almost everybody means when they talking about brining a bird) is the process of submerging the turkey in salted water for a few days. The bird stays moist and juicy during cooking, and is infused with the flavours of salt and whatever else you’ve added to the brine… and you don’t end up with a dry, bland turkey situation. In fact, for that extra turkey flavour, some people like to brine their turkey in turkey stock – so if you’re so inclined, you can pick up some fresh organic made in-house turkey stock and take things to the next level!

 

The trickiest part of a wet brine is finding a container big enough to contain the bird and the liquid, and then making sure you have enough room in your fridge for it. If you’ve got that sorted, you’re good to go!

 

  1. Place a cleaned (cleaned, dried, giblets removed) turkey into a pot big enough to hold it and 4 L of water.
  2. In another pot, warm 1 L of water and stir in 1 cup of kosher salt (or ¾ cup of table salt), until totally dissolved.
  3. When the water is cool enough to touch (you don’t want to scald the bird), pour it into the pot with the turkey. Add another 3 L of water, and any aromatics you want to include. We like to throw in a bunch of sage, black peppercorns, and a few bay leaves.
  4. Cover the pot (if the turkey is floating, weigh it down with a plate or something so it’s totally submerged), and leave it in the fridge for at least two and up to 24 hours.
  5. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it, and pat it dry.

 

Option 2: Dry Brine

 

Advantages:

  • a novel technique (impress your foodie friends)
  • takes up less space
  • doesn’t require any follow-up (is immediately ready to cook)

 

Disadvantages:

  • gives critical family something to pick on
  • involves leaving an uncovered raw turkey in your fridge for days – so if you have little kids who are old enough to open the fridge and grab things but not yet old enough to respect boundaries, you might have a problem

 

A dry brine is basically the same thing as a wet brine, only without the water! All you do is rub the salt and spices directly into the turkey, and then leave it in the fridge overnight or for up to three days.

 

  1. Clean and dry your bird. Remove the giblets.
  2. Mix together 3 tbsp salt, ¾ tbsp ground black pepper, and about another 1½ tsp dried spices (we like to go hard on sage and thyme, but you do you).
  3. Sprinkle 2 tsp of the salt mix into the cavity of the bird.
  4. If you’re feeling fancy, carefully lift the skin from the breast of the bird, and rub another 4 tsp of the salt mixture into the breasts (under the skin).
  5. Sprinkle the remaining salt mixture onto the skin of the bird, focusing on the breast and the legs.
  6. Place the turkey breast-side up on a baking sheet or roasting pan and leave it uncovered in the fridge for 12-72 hours.

 

After Brining:

 

Whichever technique you use, once you’re done with the brine you can cook your turkey as you usually would. Brining can often shorten cooking time (the salt helps to break down the muscle proteins, so the bird is less tough before it even goes into the oven), so we’d recommend checking for doneness (with a meat thermometer) about an hour earlier than you’d think.

 

In Conclusion:

 

These are both really good techniques, and I personally can’t wait until I have the opportunity to cook two turkeys simultaneously, so I can dry-brine one and wet-brine the other and decide for myself which is better.

 

Honestly though, one of the best things you can do is make sure you’re starting with a good, healthy animal. All of the turkeys we sell at The Sweet Potato are locally and humanely raised at Yorkshire Valley Farms, where they are pastured and raised without antibiotics or hormones (and eat GMO-Free feed). Combine a great organic bird with some good brining, and then serve it with some wild rice and quinoa stuffing, roasted brussels sprouts, and sweet potato pie and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success any way you brine it!

Smoked Cheddar Recipe Roundup

Do you love smoked cheddar, and want to use it in everything? We’re with you! Which is why we prepared this Smoked Cheddar Recipe Roundup! Please help us by sharing your favourite recipes!

Smoked Cheddar Recipe Roundup

1. Smoked Cheddar Quesadillas: Smoked cheddar, chicken breast cooked, Mexican oregano, cumin and caramelized onion shine in this classy quesadilla. From @GeniusKitchen.

2. For a brunch worthy of celebration, whip up this Apple, Sausage and Smoked Cheddar Breakfast Casserole from @thekitchn.

smoked cheddar apple and sausage breakfast skillet
image by Laura Volo, via thekitchn.com

3. Twice-baked Potatoes with Smoked Cheddar and Thyme turn a simple side dish into a main attraction. From @RockRecipes.

4. What’s better than smoked cheddar and apples? Smoked Cheddar Apple Pie, of course! Check out this divine recipe from Queer in the Kitchen.

5. And for a trendy take on a retro recipe, try this Gluten-Free Smoked Cheddar and Beer Fondue by @Cheeky Kitchen for some divine dipping.

image via CheekyKitchen.com

Great Things in Store

Oh my goodness, it’s really happening. Like… really happening. Our new store, built into a gorgeous, 100-odd-year-old building at 108 Vine Avenue, is going to open in just 30 days.  

We’ve been working on this move for five full years. To the month. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s been a long ride, and there’s been more than a few times in the past few years where we’ve wondered if The Sweet Potato would ever make it to our beautiful new home.

But we’re not wondering that anymore. Over the last four months, stuff’s been getting really real and it’s all so exciting! We’ve never built a new store like this, and figure probably you haven’t either, and so we thought we’d try and give you a little backstage tour of what our construction this summer has been like.

Since things really stepped up in May, we’ve had 30 to 60 amazing folks piling into our beautiful space every day. The team we’ve hired has a superstar grocery track record – over the last thirteen years they’ve built about 15 Longo’s stores (check out our fave one at Imperial Plaza) – and though everyone told us construction would be the hardest part of this whole thing, it’s actually been a total dream.

To give you just a little taste, here are a few of our favourite backstage details:

 

The concrete

So one of the things we learned in this massive renovation is that concrete is usually 6 to 12 inches deep. We had to drill down through it to be able to install proper plumbing for the fridges and freezers, and everyone was expecting a pretty breezy job. Turns out when you’re working with a stunning, old building, sometimes it’s a different story! The concrete was between one and six feet deep in some places, requiring a special super fancy concrete-basher – thank goodness for this awesome dude and his amazing power drill! 

The unexpected thrilling part is that, now that the plumbing is all done, the floors of the new store are a mix of new, old, and really old beautiful polished concrete! 

 

Fire spraying

Did you know that old metal beams (like those on the original ceiling of our awesome new store) need to be seriously fireproofed? For a full week during construction, the inside of 108 Vine Ave. looked like a haunted house, with giant ghostly sheets of plastic draped over everything as the crew covered the beams with cementitious spray. 

When they’re drying, the beams look like they’re caked with two inches of icing, but that spray does the super important job of ensuring that if there’s ever a fire, the beams won’t melt – which we’re all pretty pleased about!

 

Refrigeration unit

This is one of our favourite hidden gems of the store – something you’ll never see, but we think is one of the coolest (pun intended) things about the new space. This bad-boy micromanages all of our fridges and freezers, recycling hot and cold water from the massive refrigeration system to help keep the store cool in the summer and comfy in the winter! How great is that?!

We love swanky gadgets, but what we love most about it is it’s space-aged energy efficiency, which is super important to us given our commitment to environmental stewardship. Check out this gigantic and mysterious machine: 

 

So… when do we get to see the place?

Yeah, yeah, we know!

But for real, while it’s been super fun to show off a bit of the magic, behind-the-scenes work we’ve been doing to turn our new home into something that will do you all proud, what we really can’t wait to do is show you the finished product!

Come spin down the aisles (you’ll be able to pass your fellow shoppers will a fully loaded shopping cart, or stroller, we promise!) and celebrate with us when we open on September 21st, and at our community party on September 24th. We can’t wait to show you what we have in store!

Organic and Natural Foods Industry Glossary of Terms

The Sweet Potato - crop of lettuce

If you’re new to the world of natural and organic foods and farming, this list will help give you the vocabulary to make informed food choices.

Farming

Organic Agriculture: Organic farming is a strictly regulated farming practice that doesn’t allow for the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Organic farming:

  • Uses non-GMO (genetically modified) seeds;
  • Employs environmentally-conscious farming practices;
  • Helps create and maintain nutrient-dense land;
  • Works with natural climate rhythms;
  • And protects the water supply.

Lands also need to be certified organic, which is a process that typically takes a minimum of three years. During this process, organic standards are employed in farming practices so that the land can be certified.

In North America, labels from Canada Organic, USDA National Organic, Pro-Cert, or Quality Assurance International let you know the product has been certified as organic by an official third party organization recognized by the Canadian government.

Transitional Farming: Obtaining full certification as an organic farm is a commitment of both time and money. Crop farms interested in pursuing certification for land that had previously been used to grow conventional crops, must first apply for transitional certification. A “transitional” crop is grown on land that’s in the process of converting from conventional to organic. Certified transitional farms use organic standards in their farming practices and need to do so for a minimum of three years for organic certification. Before the three-year mark, any crops grown on the field are considered “transitional” crops and cannot be sold on the organic market.

Biodynamic Agriculture: Similar to organic farming principles, biodynamic agriculture also draws on insights made by Rudolph Steiner, a mid-20th century German philosopher. Today the biodynamic movement encompasses thousands of regenerative gardens, farms, ranches, orchards, and vineyards in a wide variety of climates, ecological contexts, and economic settings.  

Hydroponics: Hydroponics, a subset of hydroculture, is a method of growing plants without soil. Instead of soil, plants are grown in a mineral nutrient solution in water. Hydroponic nutrient solution can be made from fish waste, duck manure, or normal nutrients (fertilizer). Hydroponically grown plants are housed in plastic reservoirs in greenhouses.

Aquaponics: Refers to a system that combines aquaculture (the raising of aquatic animals like fish, snails, or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. In normal aquaculture, waste from the animals raised accumulates in the water, increasing toxicity. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed into a hydroponic system in which waste is broken down by bacteria and utilized by plants as nutrients. The water is then recirculated back to the aquaculture system.

Permaculture: A combination of agriculture and social design principles that work together to support natural ecosystems.  The three core tenets of permaculture are:

  • Care for the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply.
  • Care for the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
  • Return of surplus: Reinvesting surpluses back into the system to provide for the first two principles. Sometimes referred to as the Fair Share ethic to reflect that each of us should take no more than what we need before we reinvest the surplus.

The focus of permaculture is not on separate elements but rather on relationships created among them by the way they are placed together. Permaculture design seeks to minimize waste, labour, and energy input by building systems with a high level of synergy. To this end, permaculture designs are constantly evolving.

Local: Local produce, meat, and seafood are fresher, healthier, and have less impact on the environment because they’re harvested when ready and travel less of a distance to reach your plate. Moreover, it keeps dollars invested in local communities.

The definition for local in use by The Sweet Potato is less than 200 km, though no standard definition exists.

Clean: We use clean to mean free from synthetic chemicals including hormones and antibiotics, fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Clean does not mean a product has been certified organic, but it is Non-GMO and raised and produced responsibly.

GMO Genetically Modified Organisms

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms that have had their DNA altered or modified through genetic engineering usually to introduce a trait not seen naturally in the organism. Where foods are concerned, many cash crops like soy, corn, canola, potatoes, alfalfa, squash, beets, and flax have been genetically modified to resist pathogens or herbicides or to change their nutrient profile.

With concerns related to food safety, regulation, labelling, environmental impact, research methods, and the fact that some genetically modified seeds are the intellectual property of corporations, the public are increasingly demanding organic and certified Non-GMO foods. At the Sweet Potato all our produce is grown from non-GMO seeds. As well, our full bulk and bakery line is GMO-free!

 

Animal Welfare

Cage-Free: Eggs produced by cage-free hens describes hens that may or may not be permitted outside but do roam freely. Eggs from hens that only roam indoors may be labelled ‘barn-roaming’, ‘barn’, or ‘cage-free’.

Free-range: Animals that are raised ‘free-range’ can roam freely outdoors for at least part of the day. This term can apply to meat, eggs, or dairy farming.

Organic Meat: Organic meat comes from animals that have been raised without treatment of hormones or antibiotics and have been fed a diet free from anything grown from GMOs and with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. As well, minimum space allowances and access to the outdoors are part of criteria that need to be met. Organic meat can be fully traceable from flock to farm and is certified by an independent third party.

 

Trade

Fair Trade: What started as a social movement that advocates for the payment of higher prices to exporters of commodities from developing countries to developed countries has become a fully certified industry. Fair trade practices seek to promote greater equality where inequality exists as the starting point.

It promotes sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers in developing countries. Fair trade is grounded in three core beliefs:

  • That producers have the power to express unity with consumers;
  • That world trade practices that currently exist promote the unequal distribution of wealth between nations;
  • And lastly, that buying products from producers in developing countries at a fair price is a more efficient way of promoting sustainable development than traditional charity and aid.

With the certification of the industry, producers now need to apply for and pay to join a certifying body. Some criticism has arisen around how this prevents access for the most marginalized producers.

Direct Trade: Advocates of direct trade practices promote direct communication and price negotiation between buyer and farmer/producer. There is no precise definition for the term and no third-party certification. The term was coined for the coffee industry but is now applied to other growers such as cocoa, nuts, and handicraft artisans. The term was born out of frustration with the limitations of Fair Trade certification, mainly that certification is too onerous and costly to farmers and artisans who must qualify and apply for the very certification meant to offer them protections.

Past Potatoes – Lindsay Lee

Past Potatoes is our feature that looks back at some of the awesome crew that have helped shaped the ‘Potato over the years. A few have embarked on some pretty cool life adventures!
What’s your name Lindsay Lee (nee Holung)
 
When did you work here?
August 2013-September 2014
 
What do you like, or what stands out for you about The Sweet Potato?
The people. Whether it was a fellow cashier hollering out a produce code I’d forgotten, or a regular customer sharing their book recommendations while I rang through their morning coffee and muffin, there was a feeling of true community in the store that made work very rewarding. I made some lifelong friends during my time there, and still enjoy visiting them on the other side of the till whenever I’m in the neighbourhood!
 
What’s your favourite produce?
Nothing quite beats the honeycrisp apple. Or the smell of fresh turmeric when sliced.
 
What amazing things are you off doing now?
I left The Sweet Potato to pursue a puppetry gig in the UK, and since then have been between London and Toronto performing marionettes on screen. My current day job is with a fantastic independent Canadian publishing house, where I can freely geek out about my love of Canlit and CBC Radio, and tell the world about our amazing books!

Our Banned Ingredient List

The What: Buying Practices

From our first days in the Farmer’s Market at High Park, we’ve been clear about our buying standards. We value the trust you put in us to nourish your family and we really want you to feel at ease when you shop here. From our very first days till now, our produce has always been GMO-free.

We’ve always tried to source produce that’s both organic and local first. When that’s not available we look to our trusted local, clean farmers and then to certified organic farms further afield. And we always work to ensure our labeling is clear and direct so you know exactly what you’re buying.  

Over the years as we’ve grown as a company, we’ve been lucky to add entire departments and a crew of buyers to our team. It’s important for us to ensure our team is well equipped with current data to make the best decisions about what foods to stock on our shelves.

 

The Project: Make a List We Can Stand Behind

To this end, we set forth on a project to analyze a bunch of ingredients we haven’t historically let in our store to ensure there was enough reason not to. We want these sorts of regular analyses to become part of how we do business because so many of the banned ingredient lists floating around out there are woefully out-of-date. This information is helpful only insofar as it’s kept current.

We want to set the standard for best practice in the industry when it comes to our buying policies. And we wanted to test certain claims. So we looked hard at the available research and we formalized a BIG list of ingredients we won’t let in our store. This is our Banned List.

 

Here’s Why

We’re not scientists, we’re not pretending to be, and for lots of the stuff on our list there’s no firm consensus in the scientific community. After all, these things have been approved for consumption by Health Canada. But when a number of studies echo similar results, we listen. When the allowable safe “dosage” for certain ingredients consistently decreases over time, that’s a red flag (we’re looking at you, artificial food colourings). We’re not interested in just abiding by legal requirements. We’re interested in holding ourselves to a stricter standard.

When it comes to human health, the well-being of farmers and producers, and harmful ecological practices, we want to err on the side of safety. Ingredients you find on our list are there because they satisfy one of three criteria:

 

1) Research suggests it’s detrimental to human health;

2) Research suggests farming or processing the ingredient is harmful to workers;

3) Research suggests the environmental impact of producing the ingredient is harmful.

 

Take butter flavour as an example, diacetyl. This is a fine ingredient to ingest as far as we know. It’s often included in microwave popcorn that you buy at conventional stores, and used to create a rich butterscotch flavour in some alcoholic beverages.

But there’s increasing evidence that the way in which it’s processed is potentially hazardous to the workers who handle it, causing serious lung disease when inhaled. In fact, the US National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety has issued this exact warning while the California legislature seeks to bans the use of diacetyl entirely.

 

The Banned List
Take a look at our list of of banned ingredients and please be in touch if you have follow up questions or concerns. We’d be pleased to discuss our rationale and the studies we looked at to arrive at our list.

Banned Ingredients 1p PDF for web – June 2017

Paper vs. Plastic

The Sweet Potato - paper bags vs plastic bags. We looked at the data and plastic bags won out

Image via Climate Kids

Every now and again we get asked about why we stock the kind of grocery bags we do. Good question! With paper, compostable, and plastic bags available, we wanted to be sure we were making the most intelligent decision for ourselves and our customers.   

Here’s an overview of the data:

Paper Vs. Plastic

As it turns out, of the three types of bag available, paper is worst on the environment! We know… we were shocked, too.  After all, paper is a natural material, which is fully biodegradable and at the very least recyclable. But that’s not the full picture. In fact it turns out that a whole lot of GREENWASHING is responsible for our notions of paper being the more eco-friendly alternative.

Paper bags use a lot more resources in the manufacturing process and generate a heck of a lot more waste for a bunch of reasons:  

  • Paper is HEAVY. Its volume takes a lot of energy – as in fuel and electricity – to transport and process and it occupies a lot of space in landfills.
  • Producing paper bags uses an awful lot of freshwater.
  • Paper bags tend to be used ONCE because they’re so prone to ripping.

Consider the following chart:

 

The Sweet Potato Toronto - chart showing the environmental impact of various types of bags. Paper bags are the clear loser when it comes to environmental responsibility

Chart via Chemical & Engineering News

The Takeaway:

Plastic bags outperformed paper bags environmentally on manufacturing, reuse, and on solid waste volume and generation. And the more times you use a single plastic bag, the less the environmental impact.

Don’t Forget to Reuse and Recycle

One of the things that further separates plastic bags from paper is that data shows they’re often reused at least once or twice before their retirement.

The great news for Torontonians too is that plastic bags can now be recycled. And this is so important: that plastic bags end up where they’re supposed to at the end of their lifecycle. One of the most destructive aspects of plastic bags is when they end up where they shouldn’t be, particularly when they land in lakes and oceans.

What About Compostable Bags?

Thinking these were the environmentally friendly option, we carried compostable bags in the shop for a bit many years ago. Then we learned that compostable bags are actually banned in municipal green bins! It turns out municipal waste treatment facilities can actually be harmed by biodegradable bags in their system.
We All Win with Reusable

Directions to create a no sew reusable bag from an old tshirt via Mommypotamus. Because reusable bags are the most environmental responsible

Image and no-sew tshirt bag instructions via Mommypotamus

It’s estimated that every reusable bag made from cloth or recycled plastic eliminates the use of 1000 plastic bags!

If you’re feeling crafty, here’s a fun DIY project if making your own bag from materials around your house is your jam. We’re particularly loving the old superman t-shirt bag!

Also stay tuned for a new BYOB(ag) incentive program coming to 108 Vine!