On Saturday mornings, as the city is wiping her sleepy eyes awake, we pile noisily in the van. The city blocks are just beginning to stir. As we descend into the Don Valley, concrete surrenders to green (or now, gold and red), and it's hard to believe that we're anywhere urban. The car hugs a corner, climbs again, and the Toronto skyline emerges, perching the landscape of green, the urban and the pastoral juxtaposed in a surprising and beautiful way. This is something I've come to love best about Toronto - it's a city in its own right, throbbing with culture and business and always, people. But here you're also sure to find trees.
Our destination is the old Brickworks factory where the bricks of Toronto's skyline were made. It has since been converted to a historical landmark and natural habitat. Some of the machinery has been preserved, with the historical photos and captions on display. Behind the buildings, paths lead through marshland and ponds and more spectacular views of Toronto.
We come every Saturday to shop for produce grown by local Ontario farmers. The market crowds with people smelling herbs, buying flower bouquets, and tasting fresh cheeses. I'm armed with a list, but I'm in no hurry. I'm captivated by my senses.
It's at the Brickworks that I'm learning the language of food. I'm acquainted with the woman from the Niagara Valley who grew the peaches we ate this summer and the apples we're enjoying this fall. One week, she describes the wind storm that swept through her sister's orchard, destroying all seven of her peach trees. The cheesemaker from whose dairy I'm buying fresh cheese tells me that she'll see my next week and will look forward to hearing how the beef enchilada recipe turned out. Here, I've discovered that brussel sprouts grow on a stalk, pea plants create the most delicious shoots to be eaten, and Ambrosia apples are even sweeter than Honey Crisp.
In celebration of good local food, go pick yourself some apples or find a local farmer from whom to buy them. And make a batch of these yummy muffins. Your kids will thank you.
This recipe is taken from the cookbook, Earth to Table, by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann. It's a great resource if you want to try and cook seasonal foods.
Apple Cider Muffins: Makes 12 muffins
1 cup white sugar (I used 1/2 C)
I cup brown sugar (I used 1/2 C)
3/4 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
3 large eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup pure apple cider
3/4 cup sour cream (I used plain yogurt)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 medium apples, peeled and grated (I diced mine)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup muffin tin. In a medium bowl, whisk together white sugar, brown sugar and oil. Add eggs and whisk to combine.
In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a third bowl, whisk together apple cider, sour cream and vanilla.
In three additions, add flour mixture and apple cider mixture to sugar mixture, folding with a spatula to combine. Fold in apple, then pour batter into muffin cups. Fill the cups about 3/4 way to the top. Bake turning halfway, until muffins spring back to the touch, 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.