By Tim O’Connor

It seems that every time we turn around there’s something else to get us down, so I think we should talk about happy food.

Happy food puts a smile on your face. Comfort food is something that brings you back to your grandma’s table, but something that’s new to you and has no history to you is what I call happy food. My happy food is grits.

When I grew up, grits were never on my plate. I only later encountered them in the cookbooks of southern chefs such as Edward Lee, and I discovered that grits are not as difficult to make as I’d expected. I thought it took hours to get them soft, or that it was like a risotto, and I had to stay by them. You’ll really find that grits are damn well easy. You just soak overnight, though shorter soaking can work too, then cook them in the soaking liquid.

Grits are a leftovers king, and you can add anything – sausage, shrimp, a leftover lamb shank, butter, cheese (coconut milk for vegan) or any garlic-sauteed vegetable. You can sprinkle Doritos on top. I sometimes add a crispy duck skin. Grits don’t care, they love it all.

Tim O’Connor is the chef at Flora Hall Brewing. 

      • Soak overnight, 4 parts water, 1 part grits. Skim what floats to the top.
      • Place soaking liquid and grits in pot, stir while bringing to boil.
  • Turn off heat, cover, let sit for 10 minutes, which gives the grits time to think about how great they’ll be.
  • Add bay leaf, turn heat to medium low, cook for an hour and stir with wooden spoon every so often. Grits should be soft and tender.
  • Here is the fun part! I add 1/4 cup of butter, grated cheese and 1/2 cup of milk for creamy grits.

Other suggestions are hot sauce, lemon juice, seasoning mix (Cajun, taco, your mum’s secret steak spice), coconut milk. Try most anything. If adding chopped shrimp, do so at this stage as the hot grits will cook the shrimp.

Creamy grits with crispy duck skin Photo: Tim O’Connor

Green Market Cannabis in Toronto has hosted a private, cannabis-infused, restaurant dinner.   Source: The New High media platform

Cannabis edibles soon on restaurant menus?

By Marisa Romano

Cannabis stores are budding all around us. From my house in the northwest corner of the Glebe, I can easily walk to at least 10; five – or six if you also count the soon-to-open One Plant – are located in the Glebe. Not being a consumer, I needed another reason for checking them out. Take a look at the latest food trends and it becomes apparent that – past the joints of hippie times, the burnt-tasting, marijuana-laced brownies of yesterday and the so-popular sweet gummies sold in modern dispensaries – cannabis is now inching forward onto cutting-edge dinner tables. Here is a peek into this uncharted culinary territory.

A native of Southeast Asia, Cannabis sativa is one of the oldest non-food crops, cultivated for millennia for its valuable fibers, oil seeds and medicinal properties. Extensive selections and domestications of wild plants have generated a plethora of varieties, some so different from the original plant that botanists are still debating their taxonomy. The botanical species Cannabis sativa, in fact, includes plants as diverse as the cane-like varieties used for industrial fiber production (hemp) and the short and branchier strains with a higher content of psychoactive cannabinoids (marijuana).

In 2001, Canada legislated the medical use of high-cannabinoid varieties; in 2018, it became the second country to regulate their sale for recreational use (Uruguay did it in 2013). Sale of edibles received the green light one year later.

Edibles are foods or drinks infused with cannabis extracts, consumed to experience the mind and body effects of cannabinoids. A variety of packaged goods are available on the market. “Gummies, cookies and chocolates are the most popular,” says Haley Fuzessy, a friendly budtender at the High Ties store at 769 Bank Street. A Carleton University psychology student, Fuzessy started using cannabis to quiet down her rushing mind and relax. After sourcing cannabis from the street for a while, she was happy to see the safer product in regulated cannabis dispensaries and the availability of edibles as a healthier alternative to smoking. Now she makes her own moulded gummies by adding her infused coconut oil to melted regular store-bought gummy bears. She has experimented with buds from several strains and settled on the recipe that works for her.

Technically, all foods infused with cannabis are edibles. The possibilities here are unlimited and chefs specializing in cannabis-infused preparations are eagerly venturing into this new culinary field.

Among them is the Toronto Michelin-starred chef Adrian Niman. Thanks to new plant extraction methods that leave behind cannabinoids with strong flavours (terpenes), the man behind Olli Brands has created remarkable infused treats like Meyer lemon poppy seed cakes and raspberry cheesecake cookies.

Other chefs have unleashed their creativity by experimenting with pairing ingredients and cannabis strains to create menus for gourmet infused dinners. Such events are private; restaurants are not yet allowed to offer infused items on their menus for the public.

Toronto chef Lida-Tuy Dinh hosted her first multicourse infused dinner in 2017. The menu of the secret midsummer-night affair included dishes like cannabis-infused sweet beet salad, poutine, pork loin and roast peach. She has been cooking private, intimate, cannabis-infused dinners ever since.

While cannabis restaurants in the United States have been serving infused dishes since 2019, the food industry here in Canada is not quite there yet, but it is on the move. Last summer, London-based Jeremy Smith launched a petition to ask provincial and federal governments to allow the sale of cannabis-infused consumables at restaurants and cafés. If successful, his establishment would be Canada’s first.

Niman, Dinh and Smith have been drawing on medicinal cannabis properties for some time and see the opportunity to combine food and cannabis also to help others who consume for medical reasons. Smith’s petition to the House of Commons reads in part: “Allowing those struggling with medical health issues that use cannabis to assist with their conditions in a broader market spectrum…”

I can see the point in offering cannabis-infused dinners at restaurants for an evening of fun, but to aid those struggling with diseases like “Crohn’s, cancer, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, chronic pain, MS, AIDS, and many more,” as mentioned in Smith’s petition? Shouldn’t all medication be taken as prescribed? When I have fever, I do not lace my chicken soup with aspirin; I take the pill by following Health Canada-approved label directions. I have to confess that I struggle with the acceptance of this food rationale and I may not be the only one.

Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods.

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