Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,
Welcome to a regular feature of our blog,
Afternoon tea with ….
people of note’
Today, we’re taking afternoon tea with Nettie Cronish, a chef of extraordinary talent and ardent advocate for all things good and healthy to eat. She is a natural and organic foods chef, a culinary instructor and cookbook writer. Her motto: Delicious is a pre-requisite for healthy. And she’s passionate about the planet and its inhabitants and does what it takes to ensure both survive.
Organic and fair trade Earl Grey tea leaves are steeping in a handsome teapot; both Nettie and Her Ladyship (that would be me) take our tea clear. We sit back; curl our feet under us on the (virtual) couch and chat.
You’ve written several cookbooks which are landmarks in vegetarian kitchens: Nettie’s Vegetarian Kitchen, New Vegetarian Basics and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being Vegetarian in Canada. You have another book coming out in a couple of months. What’s the focus?
My last book was Everyday Flexitarian: Recipes for Vegetarians & Meat Lovers Alike – a guide for unwavering meat lovers and committed vegetarians. Now I’ve co-authored with Pat Crocker another Flexitarian cookbook, Flex Appeal, which showcases healthy, delicious recipes prepared in 30 minutes or less.
So, saving time is the focus?
Flex Appeal is all about balancing our ethics with our taste buds; vegetarian friends with meat-eating friends. Choosing to reduce your meat intake, and to buy organic vegetable, free-range chickens and animals raised humanely and without drugs on small mixed-crop farms are all ethical alternatives to a strict vegan diet. Good cooking still remains the focus but as the mother of three and a gal who works, I know a thing or two about saving time!
You are known for your philosophical and ethical approach to food. Did you have a conversion on the road to Damascus?
Perhaps on the road to and from the Kibbutz! Reflecting back, I see many influences that contributed to my philosophy. I grew up in Toronto in a kosher home, so I understood very well the dietary interface of a kosher kitchen – dietary rules rather than flavour; later I worked in a restaurant where I came into contact with vegetarian cooking. After high school, I took a year off and lived on a kibbutz where I learned to cook mostly vegetarian meals – and the seeds of ethical food consumption began to root. It wasn’t until I hit the University of Toronto that I committed to being a vegetarian.
What is your first food memory?
I remember my grandparents’ bakery around Phoebe Street and Queen Street West – Zimmerman’s. Long gone and the site is now a school. Also my mother was a very good baker and I remember her Bundt cake made with yeast, cinnamon, caramelized sugar – I remember waking up smelling the wonderful aroma.
When did you get into food in a serious, professional way?
Well … I have a psych degree from U of T, worked as a counselor and did not take any ‘classic’ cooking courses, so … this is what happened: My sister knew a guy who started an alternate educational service called The Skills Exchange and he needed someone to teach vegetarian cooking. He knew my sister had a sister who was vegetarian, and that is how I became a food instructor.
Interesting! Did you know this would lead to vegetarian guru status?
Hardly! My break was a reporter named Ellen Roseman, who at the time worked for the Globe and Mail (she’s now the pre-eminent personal finance and consumer columnist at The Star). She took my course and then wrote about it; readers got the impression I was a vegetarian caterer and my phone did not stop ringing. So I rented kitchen space in Kensington Market and catered.
You certainly seized the day!
Yes; I catered and later I took over the deli counter at Goldberry’s on St. Nicholas Street (alas, also long gone!) and cooked vegetarian meals for the lunch trade. And what do you do with leftover lunches? Start a frozen vegetarian food company!
Do you still have the frozen food company?
My frozen food empire was growing and that was a good thing. Somewhere along the way I managed to get married and choices had to be made …. I chose to have a baby and our son Cameron was born and the frozen vegetarian meals were shelved.
But you kept up teaching?
Yes and cooking. I am the resident culinary instructor at The Big Carrot (Toronto’s premier natural food market) and I teach at other venues. I worked with renowned chef Chris Klugman when he was head chef at King Ranch Spa north of Toronto. I applied to be the vegetarian chef and Chris to his everlasting credit in my eyes, hired me. I would often do demonstrations for the guests who were interested in vegetarian cooking. I left the Spa when it closed.
You also give a lot of time to food-related boards.
Yes, I’m on the boards of Fairtrade Canada and Taste Canada. At Fairtrade Canada, we’re responsible for certifying that Canadian products bearing the Fairtrade certification meet international Fairtrade standards. Also we want fairness and decency for farmers, artisans and the planet to be meaningful in the marketplace. Taste Canada is the annual awards, recognizing and celebrating superior writing and publishing throughout Canada’s culinary world, both English and French.
You’re hosting a dinner party for 10 – describe your menu.
Organic vegetable platter and quinoa humus – possibly a red quinoa – and cashew butter instead of tehina and flat bread. Next, a black lentil and organic apricot soup jazzed up with Indian spices. The main dish would be tofu ‘meat’ balls made with fresh herbs, chopped garlic, miren, ground flax rehydrated in a vegetable broth. The tofu balls are baked first and then quickly stir fried with a little chili sauce. Dessert would be basmati/cinnamon rice in coconut milk with fresh mango chunks and crowned with fresh berries and a sprig of fresh mint.
Sign me up for your next dinner party! Who from history would you like at your dinner table?
Eleanor Roosevelt. She’s a fascinating character from a powerful dynasty but knew how important it was to relate to everyone.
How do you celebrate big moments?
Food would definitely be part of the celebrations – I have 3 kids; my mom is 93 and they all have their favourite foods.
Favourite way to pass a summer day?
At the cottage on a quiet lake in Muskoka: No telephone, no computer.
English line of potato chip called Tyrells Hand Cooked English Crisps.
Best lesson from a mistake?
To let go; forgive yourself (if required), learn and move on.
When I got pregnant at 45. I felt so grateful.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Stop and listen. Empty your head and be in the moment – still your ego.
Quickest mood boost?
Coffee – fair trade, freshly roasted. I roast my own coffee.
Favourite Canadian city?
Contemporary celebrity you admire?
Your current project?
A cookbook on beans and seeds.
Here is one of our favourite recipes from Nettie’s dessert repertoire; it’s downright delicious, to die for yet hugely wholesome. Pair it with our Buckingham Palace Garden Party tea, and you have a royal treat. This Chocolate Beet Brownies recipe is a crowd pleaser at any party.
Chocolate Beet Brownies
Recipe tip: Roasting beets in the oven is really easy. Just wrap them in aluminum foil, poke some holes, and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in the oven at 400⁰ F for 75 minutes (until soft enough to pierce). Use your leftover beets for a delicious addition to a salad or side dish.
8 oz roasted beets (2 small/1 medium beet, peeled)
8 oz unsalted butter (2 sticks – 1 cup)
¾ cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
4 eggs large
1¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
¾ cup unbleached white flour
1 cup chocolate chips, preferably 60 percent or more cacao
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Puree roasted beets in food processor until smooth
- In a medium pot over low heat, melt butter. Turn heat to medium-low and add both sugars. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, about 2–3 minutes, and remove from heat.
- Beat the eggs on medium with a mixer for about 2 minutes. Add cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and vanilla extract, and incorporate well
- Add pureed beets and butter-sugar mixture and mix well. On low speed, add flour and then chocolate chips, scraping the sides as needed
- Butter a 9 x 13 pan generously, add batter and bake 30 minutes until knife comes out clean or with just a few crumbles.
- Cool in the pan before turning out onto a cooling rack.