Natural and Organic in Montreal

My friend H visited us recently. She stayed with M and me while R was traveling. She noticed that I had some strange (to her) products and asked where I buy them. She specifically wanted to know about the toothpaste. Luckily, I bought a few last time and had one to give her to take home. As well, she got to take her bar soap home, like from any good B&B :-). Although she went to work from here, she said that she felt like she was on a holiday, which I was very happy to hear. Hope we meet more often, H!

I intended to send her an email listing where I buy various products. I do get asked this questions by other Montrealers too. So, here goes. This post goes out to all of my dear friends here. To you! And to yours! A description of various stores. I am thrifty. Walk as much as possible to avoid unnecessary spending. (For the record, R thinks that I am crazy. Why not just take public transport if I think driving or taking a cab when not needed is environmentally unfriendly? Bah, who wants to wait for the bus or go down multiple escalators to get to the metro system!) But I do spend a lot on things that go on or in my family.

Now for the stores…I’ll write about what I find in each store in a later post. I want to make an easy-to-refer-to table of sorts. Maybe make my savvy husband fix one up. He’s really good at that. They look a lot better than what I can get PowerPoint to do for me.

Le Frigo Vert, Centre Ville.

My first destination when I want to buy anything for personal care or for food is this Concordia University student co-op. Almost fully organic. All Concordia students are automatically members but one can also buy membership for C$20 per year. More than worth it. Non-members pay a 20% premium on products. Plenty of bulk bins for beans, flours, etc. Vegetables come in on Tuesdays. Vegetable selection is small. Local handmade snack items are available. It is open Monday-Thursday, 12-7 pm. Not open this week for some reason. Annual vacation, I suppose? Didn’t ask. Was busy buying the store out :-). Has some baby products and also organic and eco-friendly feminine products.

L’Autre Choix Mini Marche, Westmount.

The other choice.

Clara, the owner, is very friendly and knowledgeable about her products. Very helpful. She tries to bring in as many local products as possible. Almost fully organic. I believe the store is open 7 days a week. The store is a drop-off point for a few CSAs. The best part? She used to tell me not to waste anything upon seeing how much I buy. She once told me that she’d rather I buy less and use it all than that I buy a lot and waste anything. That is one kind of an ethical store I can get on board with. She stopped saying this to me now that she knows my eating habits :-). Which reminds me that I forgot to call in an order for milk. BRB. I am back. Where were we? Yeah. Milk. No. Eating habits. She has figured out that I am crazy like that. I think she is on board with that too :-). Doesn’t have products specifically intended for babies but has frozen organic fruits and vegetables. I don’t currently buy anything for a baby.

Ecollegey, NDG. New store in Plateau too. Not visited it yet.

Also mostly organic. Delivers on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It isn’t very convenient for me to go there on a bus. But I do like this store too. Delivery is free if you spend >C$80. Cost comparison with the one above? I am not a comparison shopper when it comes to food. I prefer to find something healthy and convenient. That I can sustain week after week or month after month, as the case may be. When I want/need things delivered and if I can get the total above 80, I go for this. I lean more towards the store above however, as I like to encourage a relatively new, small, and good business. Ecollegey has baby-specific products like cereals, wipes, natural and organic body wash…

Couffin Bio, Centre Ville.

Quite a selection of organic and natural products. I was told that all of their produce is organic 2 years ago. I used to go there more before I discovered Clara’s store above. Clara has a much bigger selection of fruits and vegetables, I think. Couffin Bio carries organic baby supplies. Definitely explore it if you get a chance.

Boutique Bummis, Plateau.

Baby supplies and mama supplies. I used their organic cotton prefold-PUL cover diapering kits on M. Excellent customer service. Hosts various meetings like baby wearing support groups. I don’t know what other classes they have. They are very helpful. So, a phone call will tell you what other sessions they host. Focuses on Canadian-made products.

Update: The store is now, closed. But their products are available online at bummis.com

Melons & Clementines, NDG.

Nursing and other mama supplies, baby supplies. Also rents rooms out for various parenting classes and even a baby music class. Much more. I took their Infant and Child CPR class. Also, great customer service. Has a cafe and a play area for children. Parents or sitters have to watch over the little ones. No babysitting service from the store, as far as I know.

PA Supermarche, Centre Ville. More stores elsewhere. See links.

PA does not need introduction for downtowners. Mostly not organic. Has organic milk and eggs, Inewa organic sourdough bread, organic L’Ancetre hard cheeses and butter, sprouted grain or other organic cereals, Bob’s Red Mill or other gluten-free foods which were handy when M had wheat intolerance as a baby. Best part? Willing to order new products and see if there is sufficient interest among their clientele. Lowest prices of all super markets. Many employees milling around to get help finding products, especially during the day. Very busy store. When M had a dairy intolerance, they ordered calcium-fortified coconut milk drink when I requested it. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell well. They pulled it out. They do have other products from the same company. Can’t say that I myself liked the coconut milk too much but I religiously bought and used it as long as they had it in stock. Calcium-fortified drinks make me feel like I have arthritis. No. Not exaggerating but that is a topic for perhaps a future post.

Provigo, all over the city.

Has some organic fruits and dairy. Dairy is more expensive than at PA.

Marche Victoria, near Plamondon Metro Station. On Victoria.

Indian (South Asian) store with best selection of Indian vegetables in town. Gets vegetable supply in on every Thursday, mid-morning. Has most Indian food basics. Con. Narrow aisles. Difficult to maneuver with stroller or even walking toddler. I don’t attempt to go there alone with M. Very difficult to keep her out of the way of other shoppers. Pro. Inexpensive food.

Marche Jolee, near Cote Sainte Catherine Metro Station, also on Victoria.

Indian (South Asian) store. Also has vegetables. Smaller selection of Indian vegetables, I feel. Easier to find South Indian foods there. Biggest positive surprise. They have frozen mango leaves. What for? If you don’t already know, you don’t need to know. Really. Trust me on this. What other surprises do they have in store (pun intended)? I wonder.

“I wonder why, I wonder why, I wonder why I wonder. 
 I wonder why, I wonder why, I wonder why I wonder.”

A joke from farewell party to the graduating class during my second year of undergrad study. Apparently, I used the phrase “I wonder” a lot, at one point. SD wrote this… couplet(?) for me. I think we had to guess whom the couplet referred to.

Pharmacie Jean Coutu, everywhere in the city.

Has several organic personal care products. Prices tend to be cheaper than Pharmaprix. Somehow has a better selection of products too. Both stores have Dora and Diego toothbrushes. Very important for M er… Me :-).

I think that is about it. This is not to imply that if I am in the vicinity of a store from which I can find something I need in a hurry, I won’t buy it. But I don’t look around. I have looked around enough, don’t you think?

There are other stores and businesses that offer similar services to ones I name above. But I am only focusing on stores with food and personal care products. Other services I mention are incidental to the focus of this post.

Disclaimer: These are strictly my opinions and impressions. No business asked me to write this, much less paid me for it. I am writing this for my friends and anyone else who is interested.

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Vegetables – Villains or Vilified?

In Enid Blyton’s universe, the children buy food from farms owned by kind people whenever they’re off on their adventures. They eat tomatoes, they drink fresh, creamy milk, all the while enjoying some jolly fat ices. Reading Famous Five always sent me scampering to the refrigerator. Munch went the tomatoes. Crunch went the carrots. Many were the tomatoes that “went” with Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, and Huckleberry Finn.

Imagine my surprise when I read in some parenting book or email or blog that I should hide the vegetables in seemingly unhealthy concoctions so that my child will lap it up. This is not even an isolated statement. I read it everywhere, it seems to me. What? But why? They taste so good! As I remember it, my siblings and I always tried to ascertain that we got at least as much of a vegetable as the other, and if it looked like we got at least one piece more than the other, even better.

 

Why this difference? It got me wondering. And the answers came to me, all wrapped up in my Eastern heritage. It is the way we package them. They aren’t just cut up, steamed and seasoned with salt and pepper, if that. We cut them up and transform them into dishes with a variety of spices, styles of cooking, even different oils used for cooking.

 

What about raw vegetables, you ask?

 

My mother bought the vegetables from a small vendor who bought the vegetables the same morning from farmers around the city. Local, always in season, and fresh. Mangoes came only in the summers. Lemons were plentiful in the winter. Not having been told to eat his spinach by pop-eye, my husband doesn’t like it very much. Yet, when July rolls around, he’ll be buying 2 bags a week from the market. Of his own accord. Local, fresh, at its peak flavour. We’ll eat each vegetable for its own distinctive taste.

 

And the Case of the Disappearing Tomatoes and Carrots should be proof enough.

Chickpea Salad

After the longest time, I hosted a party today. A brunch. This is practically the first time I’ve done so after we found out that we’re having M. I thought long and hard about what to make the center piece. A chickpea salad walked into my mind. I was told that it was really good, but o…

 

Another interrupted post, this was because of M’s nightmare.

 

The brunch was last Sunday. I was surprised at how much I liked the salad!

 

Without further ado-

 

Ingredients:

 

Chick peas, dry                      5 cups, soaked overnight and boiled
White vinegar                         0.5-1 tbsp
Lime juice                              from 2 limes or to taste
Green pepper, chopped finely  1
Red pepper, chopped finely     1
Avocado, chopped finely         0.75 (I can be used, but I had only that much left)
Salt                                       to taste

 

On the side, to be used or not, depending on taste

 

Chana chaat masala
Yogurt with mint
Chopped cilantro
Extra lime wedges

 

Mix the first set of ingredients and refrigerate overnight, so that the flavours blend well. Remove an hour before serving, with second list of ingredients on the side.

 

Note: I suspect that serving it on a bed of favorite salad greens or adding some al dente cooked bow tie pasta before marinating in the refrigerator overnight will be great too!

 

Hummus, banana-pecan cake, bagels and cream cheese, bread, toddler biscuits, madeleines, various juices, completed the food list. Thank you, FM, CS, LB, and VH! And all others who came. I absolutely enjoyed myself, and I hope you all did too. Thank you, SF, for the beautiful flowering shrub.

 

PS: I was gently reminded that my friend SS made it first a year ago with a few differences…wow, has it been only a year? It seems a lifetime ago that I was a giant almost 8 months puffy..I mean, pregnant lady plopped on the middle of S & R’s floor (funny, they’re S and R too!).

Mother’s shortcuts – making tamarind extract

South Indian cooking is very tamarind intensive. In my early cooking days, I used the tamarind extract that comes in a jar. As my cooking skills advanced, this convenience no longer tasted good to my refining taste buds. Now, I am all about fast cooking and if it has no taste, so be it, as I mentioned before, but if I make a dish that is supposed to have certain ingredients and taste a certain way, I can no longer make do with pre-processed foods. As I used to call myself before, I am an idli (a lentil-rice cake eaten dunked in stew made with – you guessed it – tamarind) snob. Fresh ingredients and the works.

 

I have always said to R that what stops me from making South Indian stews most of the time is the tamarind juice extraction. It really doesn’t take that much time when all is said and done, but it is just one extra step of planning that I hate doing. So, up went the phone, dial went the numbers, to my aunt. She’s an expert in these shortcuts (if you’re reading this S-P, here’s giving you credit). What to do on Sunday night so that the week’s cooking goes faster. There it is! She told me that the juice can be extracted and frozen in ice cube trays.

 

Ingredients

 

Tamarind
Water
Turmeric – 1 tsp
Salt – 1 tsp
Sugar – 1 tsp

 

Note that I don’t say how much tamarind. I used the entire packet that I bought.

 

1. Submerge tamarind in excess water and forget about it for a few hours.

 

2. Messy step coming up – squeeze all the juice you can out of the tamarind. Pour into a thick bottomed stainless steel vessel (not aluminum or non-stick), even if it means adding a lot more water. Because you’re going to boil it down anyway.

 

3. Add salt and turmeric, place on a low flame and kind of forget about it. Not quite because it should be stirred occasionally. It should boil down to a thick syrupy consistency. Remove from heat.

 

4. Once cool, transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate. I didn’t freeze it. It was good for about a month (I used it up by then, so I am not sure how much longer it would have been good).

 

The turmeric, salt, and sugar are all antibacterials.

 

Happy cooking!

Border of Snow Discoveries – Slow Down and Enjoy the View

When we rented this apartment, about the only 2 things we considered were the view and proximity to stores/Metro. For a whole year, however, the only view we enjoyed was while we were going about our lives and happened to glance through the window and exclaim, “Fall colours!” or “Spring!”.

 

Very recently, when M was refusing to sleep, we switched off the lights and turned our chairs out facing the window, and sat watching the lights of cars going by on the mountainside, of windows in the General Hospital. Silently wishing the sick people there a speedy recovery. After a couple of nights of that, we went back to our routines and didn’t revisit the view until today.

 

After I prepared lunch for M (butternut squash-brown rice-split green gram lentils, sauteed in olive oil and a pinch of cumin seeds), I sat waiting at the table for her to come and sit by me to eat it. She, however, had other plans. She wanted to pull this, push that. She wanted to transfer rings from one container to another and back, to the floor, into the containers, and repeat. And to come and take a bite when she remembered. Don’t ask me why she wasn’t in her high chair. A whole another story, which no, I won’t be posting here. I found myself wishing that I could take her somewhere where she’d have more interesting things to see than my face. Then perhaps she’ll stay near me. A bell went off in my mind.

 

I jumped up, pulled the curtains open, and put a dining chair in front of the window. Pulled a foot stool with a coaster on it to hold the food. With M perched on my lap, we watched the cars yet again. Sun’s rays reflecting off their sides. M pointing to them, saying, “Ka”. Not quite sure if she thinks the window is a “Ka” or a car is a “Ka”. No matter, she was enjoying herself too. When I made a discovery about the geography of my ‘hood.

 

I began pointing out city buses to her, on what I assumed was the route I take on my way back from physiotherapy at the General Hospital. Telling her stories about how I take that bus often. I soon realized that something was wrong. The only bus that plies on that route runs only once in a half hour. And it isn’t one of those 2-buses-connected-into-1 kind either. When I realized that it wasn’t the street I thought it was all this while, and it wasn’t the view of the hospital I thought it was either. It is the road that loosely translates to Border of Snow – the one I take when I go up the hill to physiotherapy. The one I took with increasing frequency to walk up the hill to my OB. The one we took to go to the hospital where M was born. It was right outside my window. Admittedly, quite some distance away. I had always wondered if I was even correct in my assumption that the building housed the GH.  A certain twist in the Border of Snow across and up the hill completely escaped my mental map of what lay around my window and where. Now I know. We confirmed it later, by studying maps.

 

Time slowly lost meaning as we were both engrossed in observing the outside world. The buds on the trees. The shapes of the clouds. Enjoying each other’s company. Lost in our own thoughts. I couldn’t have told you how frequent those buses were at that moment, or was it an eon. Occasionally eating. I later realized that we were there for over an hour, long after she finished her lunch. I came back to time when she decided that she had had enough of the view for then.

 

We slowed down. We made a discovery. It may seem insignificant to others but it isn’t to us. We like to know what it is that we see when we look out of our window. And what we miss when we only look but don’t observe.

Black-eyed Peas and Arugula

I would never have guessed that M will eat arugula. It was a gamble that I decided to play.

 

Brown rice          1/2 cup
Black-eyed peas 1/2 cup
Arugula               3 cups
Cumin
Garlic
Extra virgin olive oil

 

I cooked brown rice and black-eyed peas together, steamed and finger-mashed arugula, and sauteed them in olive oil with garlic and ground cumin. I added a teeny tiny dash of salt and cayenne pepper to it too, but I don’t notice any difference in taste from before I added those, so I didn’t list them. It is a tad bitter, but M seems to think nothing of the bitterness!

 

Do you have any such strange lunch recipes that your baby/toddler eats or perhaps you do?

Hummus

Like many Indian expatriates in the West, I try to figure out how I can make food both Indian and international, so that my little one will be willing to try a variety of foods when she crosses the ponds. It also has to fit in with what I can make at home without additional gadgets or too many ingredients that’ll only see the light of day when they enter baby’s food.

 

Several weeks ago, February 13 to be exact, R and I decided to go for a pre-Valentine’s dinner, baby in tow. We went to a cute little Turkish place that we’ve always walked past. Through the front window, one can see a lady sitting in front of a big convex pan, rolling and roasting things. Finally, we decided to check it out. We ordered a starter combo with hummus and others in it. M was eyeing our plates, but we hadn’t given her chickpeas by then, nor lemon. I made the executive decision that it’ll be a Valentine’s treat for her. She loved it so much that we ordered a full plate of it. And she loved it. I watched apprehensively to see how her system will handle the double whammy. No sign of indigestion (chickpeas) or rashes (citrus). Whew! What a relief! And, one more dish to add to her growing repertoire of foods. I had considered making hummus many times in the past but was somehow intimidated. But bubs liking it called for action.

 

I made it. It was so easy. And this morning, I was chatting with a family friend who was making lunch for her granddaughter. An Indian expat in the US. When I mentioned that M had hummus for dinner yesterday, she asked me how I made it. I told her how, then realized that there would be other clueless moms like me, trying to get their kids to eat healthy and get them accustomed to international cuisines while having no experience of cooking the same. Thus far, if I wanted hummus, I bought it.

 

This post is dedicated to such moms the world over. I don’t measure out what I put in dishes because I strongly believe that the more natural an ingredient is, the harder it is to have the same flavour across samples. I will write out an approximation however, and should be adjusted based on your/your baby’s preferences.

 

Chickpeas (dry) 1 cup
Cumin               2 tsp
Sesame seeds (optional) 1 tsp
Extra virgin olive oil (to smoothen the mixture)
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)

 

Method:

 

1. Soak chickpeas overnight. This can be stored for 2-3 days in the frig. before the next step.

 

2. Drain and cook with fresh water until soft. I use a Futura Pressure Cooker, and this translates to about 10 min after full steam. Drain and retain some of the water separately. Note from a friend: This can be stored in the frig. for up to a week, when stored in its own cooking water and some lemon juice squeezed in. She’s from Pakistan’s Punjab, and I bet she knows what she’s talking about. But I wouldn’t store it at both stages 1 and 2 for that long esp. when cooking for baby.

 

3. Grind cumin seeds.

 

4. Add sesame seeds and grind to a fine paste using extra virgin olive oil as the smoothening medium.

 

5. Add cooked chickpeas. Grind with extra virgin olive oil and cooking water until smooth and thin enough for baby to eat.

 

6. Squeeze lemon juice to taste.

 

Voila!

 

Note: There is no salt or chili spice in this recipe because it is for a baby. I would add salt and cayenne pepper for myself. As also, roasted red peppers or roasted eggplant (or neither). I could add red peppers for M too, but I haven’t given it to her yet, so I shall wait until I have. My mum told me not to introduce eggplant yet because we have a family history of allergies to it. Nothing life threatening, so I eat it anyway, but why discomfit a baby’s system!