Take a look at your lunch right now (or snack or dinner, whatever’s the next thing going into your mouth). Do you know where it came from? Do you know who (or what) made it? Can you pronounce the ingredients? Do you see evidence of real plants there? Yes? No? Either way, welcome to a discussion on one of my favourite things…food. Food can be a wonderful source of nutrients, deliciousness, pleasure, and sometimes guilt. The foods you choose can also make or break your health. As Ann Wigmore said, “The food you eat can either be the safest & most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”.

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Just Planted: UHN Real Food Garden

But before we get to the What, let’s get to the Where. We appreciate our food more when we know where it comes from, especially if it’s somewhere close by. As a nice side bonus, you save fuel and energy if your food doesn’t have to travel too far to get to you. One way to score locavore points and eat well is to hit up the hundreds of farmer’s markets that proliferate Toronto, Ontario and the rest of the world. An even better way to get excited about these oh-so-healthy ingredients is to grow them yourself. In this case, we’ve grown them together at the UHN Real Food Garden.

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Tomatoes are growing!

Just across the street from Toronto Western Hospital lies one of our best-kept secrets, a whole series of gardens at the Scadding Court Community Centre. One of those lovely plots is tended by a team of UHNers, myself included…some staff, some patients, all great. We plant the garden from little seeds, add water, take out weeds, try not to step on the wrong thing, then finally harvest it. We learn a little on our way, like how to work soil into just the right texture for seedlings, and how to tell the difference between a weed and a tomato plant (click and scroll down for our wisdom on weeding). We’ve entered that most amazing time of the season…the harvest.

What to do with the harvest? The simple answer is eat it (and I’ll own up to snacking on a few green beans while weeding – but strictly for quality control). The better answer is to use it in the ELLICSR Kitchen cooking classes that teach cancer survivors and caregivers how to cook yummy, healthy meals. It’s such an amazing program, supported by the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. I’d never gone to one of these classes till today, though I may become a regular.

Geremy and Christy cook up a storm

Wellness Chef Geremy Capone tag teams with Christy Brisette, a Registered Dietician. As Geremy shows us cooking techniques, Christy mentions some of the amazing and healthful properties of all these ingredients, with lots of banter back and forth. Honestly, they should have a TV show. Move over Jaimie Oliver, Rachel Ray and Gordon Ramsay…you’ve got competition. Today’s features were Zucchini Smash with Fresh Ricotta and Cherry Tomatoes (with Ricotta made from scratch). Next up was Summer Orecchiette (O-ri-kyeh-ta…see, I can pronounce it) with Chard and Fennel. Finally for dessert, we had plum Tatin with Hazelnut Yogurt Semi-Fredo. Best part? They let everyone in class have a taste afterwards. Bring it!

Bonus points for attention to waste. Geremy served all the samples on compostable plates with compostable forks so all the peels, scraps and tableware went right into the green bin. That gets our respect every time.

One of the unexpected effects of the garden club and the cooking class is camaraderie. We got shoulder to shoulder planting seedlings then learning to cook them. From green thumbs growing to golden ladles stirring, we all left the class with happy palates and inspired minds. 

Want to try this for yourself?

Here’s the 411 on the ELLICSR kitchen:

When: the first 3 Thursdays of the month, 12-1 PM

Location: ELLICSR: Health, Wellness & Cancer Survivorship Centre, Toronto General Hospital, Basement Level, BCS-021

RSVP: not necessary, just show up

Contact info:


Twitter: @ellicsrkitchen

See more recipes on their website www.ELLICSRkitchen.ca

Happy planting