Autism group says minister warned of ‘long, hard four years’ if they didn’t support changes

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Behaviour analysts say children’s minister Lisa MacLeod and her staff threatened to make their lives miserable for the next four years if they didn’t endorse the government’s changes to autism services.

In a memo to members Wednesday, the board of the Ontario Association for Behavioural Analysts said “the minister and her staff requested that ONTABA provide a quote of support, without providing full details on the program, and indicated that failure to do so would result in “four long years’ for the organization.”

It went on to say that “the minister also indicated that if a quote of support was not forthcoming, a communication that behaviour analysts are ‘self-interested’ would be released from her office … In spite of the implied risk, the organization refused.”

One analyst who attended the meeting said it was more “akin to dealing with a mob boss than an elected official.”

The rift with ONTABA is part of an escalating division between the Ford government and some in the autism community in the wake of its overhaul to the system, which MacLeod has pledged will clear the massive wait list for services in two years.

Parents of children with autism are also feeling bruised by the government’s dismissal of the Ontario Autism Coalition, a grassroots Facebook group of parent advocates, as “professional protesters.”

A senior source in the community and social services ministry said staff had met with ONTABA four times — and had provided details of the coming changes, and was under the understanding a supportive quote was planned. However, the source said, different representatives attended the final meeting and the tone changed.

The government “had a number of productive and cordial meetings” with the therapists as well as others in the autism community, from parents to service providers, said the source.

The source did not recall MacLeod saying that should the group not provide public support, rocky relations would ensue.

“She certainly said that we are committed to this plan,” said the source.

Several service providers and hospitals provided endorsements of the plan.

Meanwhile, the government faced more opposition from Autism Ontario, which said despite ministry claims, the organization will not be managing intake or dispersing money to families over the next year while the province overhauls autism funding.

Autism Ontario said its statement is aimed at correcting a “number of misunderstandings or assumptions,” since the government announced age-based funding caps to clear a therapy wait list of 23,000 kids, the organization said.

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The organization came under fire from angry parents last week when MacLeod suggested Autism Ontario was playing an integral part in her government’s plan to shift control of provincial funding for autism services from regional agencies to parents.

In at least one media interview, MacLeod said Autism Ontario will be directly involved with the new funding regime.

Under the changes announced by MacLeod Feb. 6, children with autism up to age 6 will receive lifetime caps of up to $140,000 until age 18, while those over age 6 will get $55,000. Funding will be aimed at low- to moderate-income families with those earning more than $250,000 no longer eligible, she said.

But parents, whose noisy protests in 2016 convinced the previous Liberal government to reverse a similar age-based funding scheme, say the Progressive Conservative plan makes the same mistake. They say the new funding falls woefully short of meeting the needs of children with complex needs whose therapy may cost as much as $80,000 a year. And it may be too much for others. It will likely mean cuts to 8,400 children currently receiving help with no funding cap, they add.

In a statement, ministry officials confirmed Autism Ontario will not be directly involved with the wait list or the funding.

Autism Ontario has been supporting families and people with autism in Ontario for the past 46 years and has parent representatives across the province through 25 local chapters, said spokesperson Katharine Buchan. It supports and advocates on behalf of both children and adults with autism through workshops, training and individual support, she added.

Social media attacks against the organization’s staff and volunteers, many of whom are also parents with autistic children, have been difficult, she said.

One part-time Autism Ontario staffer in a local chapter, who is a mother of an autistic child, called police over what she felt were threatening Facebook posts from another mother, Buchan confirmed.

“The anger is justified, but I’m not sure it makes sense to be directing it at one another when we need to be working together ensure that all children’s needs are met,” she said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government should not be “labelling groups of parents who are doing their best for their children as professional protesters.

“It’s despicable. Shameful.” she added.

“They are using these tactics to try to besmirch these parents, parents who are very worried about their children,” she said in an interview

She called analysts’ claim they were pressured to endorse the autism overhaul “strong arming professionals in the autism field, trying to knuckle them down and prevent them from providing their professional opinion on the government’s changes.”

Kendra Thomson, the incoming president of ONTABA, said her organization was not provided with any details about how their profession would be regulated, and because they weren’t told what the government’s planned registry would look like, they could not publicly support it.

As for allegations ONTABA is a lobby group, she said it is a non-profit that represents a number of professionals and promotes evidence-based services.

She also said the group was not “meaningfully consulted” on the autism changes, and despite the discord, “if we were given the opportunity to provide meaningful conversation, that would surpass the tone and anything (communicated) to date.”

She said ONTABA’s representatives left that final meeting feeling very disappointed, though “the tone was consistent with previous meetings with myself and others.”

Louis Busch, a past-president of ONTABA who attended the final meeting with the minister and her staff, said he went as a “private citizen” and that it was a tense meeting from the outset, unlike any he has attended with the past five ministers to hold this portfolio.

Busch, a board-certified behaviour analyst who works with adults, said after pressing for details, they were told a regulatory college would not be announced, but a website would provide a list “which is not regulation.”

Busch noted that MacLeod said without public support from ONTABA, “it’s going to be a long, hard four years for you.”

“This was more akin to meeting with a mob boss than an elected official,” Busch said.

Meanwhile, at a Wednesday announcement on Ontario’s fiscal situation, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said there will no additional funding for autism services beyond the $321 million announced last week.

“There were 23,000 families with children with autism who received no help whatsoever, so this plan is a fair, sustainable, and equitable plan,” said Fedeli, noting it has been well-received in his hometown of North Bay.

“We all don’t have the same services that are readily available in the south, so we’ve delivered on that. That’s why at home they’re very happy with this plan,” the treasurer said.

With files from Robert Benzie

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

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For now, optimism is hard to find in Western Canada’s natural gas business

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Shell Canada made one of the biggest moves of 2018 in the natural gas industry by deciding to move ahead with a $40 billion liquefied natural gas export facility on B.C.’s coast.

Construction is underway, but patience is needed since it will take five years to construct. Until then, the industry seems stuck with low prices, a lack of spare export pipeline space, and stagnant demand.

Shell leads the consortium behind LNG Canada, the planned export facility in B.C. 

« The mood is definitely one of excitement [about LNG], » said Rej Tetreault, general manager of natural gas projects for Shell Canada. « It’s a bit muted because the current market is very low and that’s curtailing our own short term activities. »

Tetreault overseas the Groundbirch​ natural gas operation near Fort St. John, in northeast B.C. The company has 500 wells in the area that produce natural gas. Even though Shell is spending billions of dollars to construct the LNG terminal, in the interim, the company is limiting costs on producing natural gas.

Over the next two years, no new wells will be drilled. As a result, production will drop by about 15 per cent because of natural declines.

« We don’t plan on being active in the next couple of years because we don’t feel the need to be active, » said Tetreault.

The planned liquified natural gas export facility in B.C. by LNG Canada, one of the largest industrial projects ever undertaken in Canada, is a joint venture between Shell, PetroChina, KOGAS and Mitsubishi Corporation. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)

For much of the past year, prices in Alberta have been less than two dollars per million British Thermal Units. In 2014, prices were over five dollars.

« It’s still a big challenge out there [for natural gas producers], » said Martin King, a commodities analyst with GMP FirstEnergy. « I think they’re kind of hanging on with their fingernails. »

Similar to the oil industry, there is a backlog of natural gas in Western Canada because of export pipeline constraints. For those companies able to ship their gas to the U.S., they are receiving more than twice the price than in Alberta.

While the industry waits for the LNG plant to be built, King said companies have to « batten down the hatches. »

Natural gas prices have trended down since 2008.

Mainly through technological innovation, companies have been able to slash costs considerably in recent years. Shell, for instance, said it has cut expenses at its natural gas operations by 40 per cent over the last five years, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent since 2015.

Tourmaline Oil has frozen its natural gas production at 2017 levels and has tried to diversify its transportation options to sell into several different markets in North America. Still, a lack of pipelines is hurting both its oil and gas divisions.

« It’s the most challenging time that I’ve ever seen in the Canadian oil and gas sector by a long shot, » said Mike Rose, the company’s CEO. « I personally spend a lot of time with the staff trying to keep everybody happy. »

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A Good Rugelach Recipe Is Hard To Find, So We Made One

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When I think about rugelach, I think about something my grandmother said about me at my grandfather’s memorial service. We were standing over his grave, and she was giving him reports on all of his grandchildren. When she got to me (age 12), she said, “When Julia is good, she is very, very good. And when she is bad, she is very, very bad.” The same goes for most Jewish baked goods, but it’s particularly true of rugelach. (And if you want more explanation on what my grandmother was talking about with that one-liner, I’ll just be over here working on my memoir.)

Good rugelach are made from tender, flaky pastry. They have textural contrast: soft dough playing against the crunch of finely chopped nuts rolled inside. They’re evenly cooked—toasty and golden all the way through. The absolute best rugelach have a filling that spills out just enough to form a lacy edge surrounding the cookie, like the finest, thinnest smash burger.

Bad rugelach is dry and pasty. And yet it’s also simultaneously burnt and greasy. It tastes like it was made sometime during the last world war. And worst of all, it looks basically identical to a good rugelach. You won’t know the truth until you’ve taken a bite, and it’s far too late.

So, I was curious how my colleague, definitely-not-a-member-of-the-Tribe-senior-food-editor Chris Morocco, would unleash his unerring exactitude on this iconic Jewish deli cookie. Turns out, he made a few key modifications to ensure that his rugelach, which are not just any rugelach but the cover stars of the Bon Appétit December issue, would land in the “good” camp—and then some.

One: He adds a hit of orange zest and (this is key) a full teaspoon of salt to the raspberry jam-and-walnut filling, giving it the seasoning it rarely receives.

Two: Rather than rolling each rugelach into its own mini croissant shape, Chris makes one big log, then slices off triangular rectangles (a mathematical impossibility, I know). This makes for a speedier process and a more evenly rolled cookie, which ensures that the center will bake through.

Now, all of this was going fine until I got to the third and final modification in Chris’s recipe, which was to top the rugelach with blitzed freeze-dried strawberries, which give the cookies the sparkly red luster that makes them look and feel so, you know, holiday-ish.

I question what the rabbis would say about this. I also question where one buys freeze-dried strawberries. I also, to be completely honest, tried my hardest not to F up this recipe but also to complete it during actual Hannukah. So please, no one tell Chris, but I made these without the freeze-dried strawberries. And they were very, very good.

Get the recipe:

raspberry-rugelach-03.jpg

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Fall Spritz with Hard Cider and Amaro

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Picture this: It’s Thanksgiving. You’re wearing an unflatteringly large sweater and stretch pants. You’re with your family—the extended version, including that great-aunt with ”interesting“ politics and your cousin’s girlfriend whose name no one can remember. There’s a turkey in the oven (hopefully Andy Baraghani’s dry-brined glazey guy), a scary-looking centerpiece made of dead branches your sister foraged from the yard, and a whole mess of sides at varying levels of doneness vying for counter space. Your brother just brought up the Midterm results. What do you need most right now? You need a drink.

This is the mental image I’m conjuring in my office at 4 p.m. on the Friday before Thanksgiving. I’m practicing for the Big Day in the Test Kitchen with Molly Baz, inventor of Thanksgiving 2018’s official It-Drink: the Fall Spritz. It tastes complex, but making it is even simpler than last year’s Thanksgiving’s punch: Six ounces of Basque-style dry hard cider (I opted for Barrika, but Isastegi Sagardo is a good option too) plus 1.5 ounces of amaro (Averna if you have it, but just about anything will work), poured over ice and finished with a twist of orange peel. That’s it.

“See, I’m not trying to stop drinking Aperol spritzes just because summer is over,” says Molly. “This carries the spritz right on over into fall.”

Because it’s 4 p.m. on a Friday in the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen, several other staffers are milling about. I make the drink for all of them, portioning it into large white wine glasses filled to the top with ice cubes (the more the better; you want this baby frosty, and a slight watering down by the ice as it melts is a good thing).

The key here is the magic ratio: four parts cider to one part amaro. You could measure, or you could just eyeball it. Really, says Molly, it doesn’t even matter what type of amaro you use; just go for whatever you have on hand. Aiming for a “medium” option that balances bitter, sweet, and citrus will work particularly well against the dry tang of the cider—we tried Meletti and felt quite positive about the results. Remember, you’re using Basque-style cider here, which means there’s barely even a hint of sweetness coming from the apples. Just funky tartness, nice and cloudy and unfiltered. Combined with the amaro’s herbaceousness and the fragrance of the fresh orange peel, the result is a fresh, floral, light-bodied sipper that’s not too boozy to double (or triple, or quadruple) up on.

fall spritz

Photo by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott, food styling by Rebecca Jurkevich, prop styling by Kalen Kaminski

Don’t skip the orange peel!

“There’s funk for the millennials and bright clean flavor for the moms,” says associate social media manager Emily Schultz, sidling up to the table with glass in hand.

“Yeah, and you could drink it forever,” says digital restaurant editor Elyse Inamine between slugs. “I feel like this is perfect for when you’re stuck at the table because your uncle is telling a really long story.”

Associate editor Christina Chaey joins the party. “It’s nice to have a cocktail that feels composed without having to do much work,” she says, with gravitas. “In fact, this is a cocktail you could make without owning a single bar tool.”

She’s right: The easiness of this cocktail is hard to overstate. Which works just as well if you’re playing guest, and not host, this Thanksgiving. You could pop by the liquor store on your way to dinner, grab a bottle of amaro, a few bottles of cider, and an orange, and arrive looking not like the deadbeat who didn’t cook anything and never does (🙋🏻), but a hero with a very sophisticated palate. Just put the bottles on the table, bust out some glasses and an ice bucket, and let everyone fend for themselves. Because it’s spritz-o’clock, and that’s always something to be thankful for.

Get the recipe:

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It’s hard to like Bombardier

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It’s possible that Bombardier is not the biggest recipient of corporate welfare in Canadian history.

That dubious honour might belong to the Canadian Pacific Railway, which was granted big chunks of valuable public land by the federal government in the 19th century.

Or it might belong to the Hudson’s Bay Co., which was given suzerainty over much of what is now Canada by the British Crown in the 17th century.

But whatever its exact place in the subsidy ranking, Bombardier is certainly up there. The Quebec-based transportation giant and its predecessor companies have received close to $3 billion in government loans and grants over the years.

And more often than not, the company has rewarded its benefactors by kicking them in the teeth.

Which is what it did last week, when it announced plans to lay off 3,000 workers in Ontario and Quebec.

Some of these workers may be taken on by the aerospace companies that are buying portions of Bombardier’s business. But so far there are no guarantees.

The company said the asset sales will net it $900 million while the cutbacks will save an additional $250 million a year.

It said it wants to streamline its operations.

This comes two years after Bombardier laid off 5,000 Canadian workers in another effort to streamline operations. The aim then was to focus on its C Series passenger plane.

The company received $1.4 billion in loans and grants from the federal and Quebec governments to aid in this endeavour. It responded by giving huge bonuses to senior executives.

Ultimately, for reasons that weren’t entirely its fault, Bombardier gave away control of its C Series program to European competitor Airbus — while receiving nothing in return.

The Canadian and Quebec governments, which had bankrolled much of the aircraft’s development, also received nothing.

All in all, it is hard to like Bombardier.

Torontonians will know it as the manufacturer of $1 billion worth of pricey streetcars that don’t work.

Bombardier famously has been unable to deliver on time the 204 cars ordered by the Toronto Transit Commission nine years ago. As my Star colleague Ben Spurr reported, most of those that have been delivered contain welding defects that require them to be taken out of service for repair.

To add insult to injury, the defective streetcar parts were manufactured largely in low-wage Mexican plants. Bombardier still has railcar operations in Kingston and Thunder Bay. But they focus on assembly.

So much for Toronto’s laudable effort to buy Canadian.

Bombardier exemplifies everything that can go wrong in so-called public private partnerships. It took over publicly owned aerospace firms in Ontario and Quebec, largely because government wanted to get out of the airplane manufacturing business. But then it continued to rely on government aid to keep going.

Similarly, it bought rail car plants in Thunder Bay and Kingston that the Ontario government of the day was desperate to unload. But it remained the province’s favoured subway and streetcar manufacturer, its status even protected in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Somewhere along the way, Bombardier became a multinational with operations in Europe, contracts in Central Asia and factories in Mexico. Its rail division is headquartered in Berlin.

It became so big that governments in Ottawa, Quebec and to a lesser extent Queen’s Park couldn’t allow it to fail.

Yet in spite of being intimately intertwined with government, it remains a private firm dedicated to the profits of its owners.

Governments may see it as a vehicle for creating good jobs. But as Bombardier demonstrated again last week, it can eliminate those good jobs any time it wants.

Thomas Walkom is a Toronto-based columnist covering politics. Follow him on Twitter: @tomwalkom

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I Tried Going Tech-Free on Sundays and Boy Was It Hard | Healthyish

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This story is part of the Healthyish Guide to Sunday, a compilation of recipes, suggestions, and obsessions to make the first day of the week your favorite.

The night before I am to begin my adventure in “Tech-Free Sundays,” it occurs to me that I should Google “Tech-Free Sunday,” which I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to do once it’s Tech-Free Sunday.

There are various approaches to Tech-Free Sunday, but they are all, in spirit, pretty much the same: you are supposed to forswear your various devices—phone, computer, TV, Kindle, all of it—and instead connect with the non-digital world around you, like your partner, or your children, your feelings.

It sounds very, very hard.

Like everybody else, I am addicted to my devices. I wake up to the alarm on my phone, which usually rings from inside my bed, because that is where I left it, when I fell asleep reading WebMD. I am online at work, and online at home. I check Twitter constantly: what if someone said something? I read the newspaper on my phone. I read novels on my phone. “Go to sleep!” my boyfriend says to me, on a somewhat regular basis, when it is 2 a.m. and I am reading the personal blogs of non-famous people I do not know. Usually, when he says this, he is gazing at his phone.

But the people recounting the virtues of tech-free Sundays are ecstatic about the virtues of disconnecting from the internet. “The first time we unplugged, it felt like the longest day ever,” filmmaker Tiffany Shlain told Greatist. “And that was wonderful. I knew then that it was something I wanted to do every week.” She and her family have for years been observing what they call “Technology Shabbat”—a modified version of the Old Testament sabbath that plenty of people have been practicing for, well, millennia.

I read blog posts about all the things I’ll notice when I’m not checking my phone. It will be just like it was in the old days on the prairie, or in 2006.

“I’m doing Tech-Free Sundays now!” I tell my boyfriend, on the Saturday night before my no-tech journey starts. “Oh,” he says. “So are you giving up, like, the wheel?” I define my terms. No: computer, phone, iPad. No: email, Twitter, Instagram. Yes: wheels, modern medicine.

And then I wake up in the morning and fail. The problem is work: I need to meet a deadline. Could I do it without a computer? I mean, sure. Galileo accomplished amazing things! (What “things” exactly I would have to Google.) “It’s fine,” I announce, to no one. “I’ll just use the computer for work, but I won’t check Twitter or anything.” And I don’t, for many hours. And then I do. It’s right there! And though I check it very briefly, just in case anyone died or is mad at me, the spell is broken. Every minute I spend on my computer-but-only-for-necessary-reasons is a test of willpower; it is like playing don’t think of pink elephants, where the elephant is social media. I am not blissed out. I am miserable.

But the beautiful thing about Sundays is that there is always another one. The next week, I refine my approach: no tech, at all, between the time I wake up and 9 p.m.

This time, I am prepared. On Saturday, I make a list of everything I want to accomplish over the weekend, and then work my way through all the parts that require technology: I send emails. I print return labels. I look up directions. That night, I research everything I can think of: I Google exes and early signs of colon cancer. I read the entirety of the New York Times. And then I put my phone down, and when I wake up on Tech-Free Sunday, I do not pick it up again.

Instead, I read. I finish a book—one with paper!—and then move onto magazines. Do you know how pleasurable it is to read a magazine by touching it? It is a delight, like petting a very literary cat. I read articles I didn’t even know I was interested in, just because they were there! I laugh. I weep. “Look at me, doing Tech-Free Sunday,” I think, reading a long article about the financial crash of 2008.

The first hitch comes when I go to meet a friend. I’m running late, on account of all the magazines, but have no way to tell him. Also, after leaving the house, I have no idea what time it is, because my watch is my phone and my phone is at home. You’re supposed to notice things on Tech-Free Sunday? Here is what I notice: there are no public clocks, anywhere. I know that now. I also know that maybe I should buy a watch. I pass a dog I want to take a picture of—it is very fluffy, and sitting like a child—but I can’t, so I don’t. I want to check my grocery list, but I can’t do that either.

I meet my friend and apologize for being both 15 minutes late and unreachable on account of Tech-Free Sunday, and he chuckles at my stunt journalism and is, I think, impressed. (Oftentimes I am 20 minutes late.). I do not pick up groceries, but we don’t need any. I worry that my parents won’t be able to reach me in a crisis, but there are no crises. And at 9 p.m., I check my email, and find I have missed several sales promotions from Old Navy and nothing else.

Was I relaxed? It is an unfamiliar feeling, but I was. I felt a semblance of control over my life; for the first time in weeks, it seemed like there was a healthy buffer between myself and the world. It was like a wilderness vacation, only in my house. (I have never taken a wilderness vacation.)

But because life is nothing if not a learning process, the next weekend, I told everyone who might need to get in touch with me that I would not be reachable on Sunday. Did this feel obnoxious? Yes. But it also felt necessary: I live in a city, with a cell phone, in 2018. If I’m going off the grid, it seems obligatory to inform the people who might need me—how else will they know I won’t get the message that they’re running late? A friend I’d told texted me anyway. He was running late. Conveniently, I was also running late. Tech-Free Sunday is all about embracing serendipity.

Again, I read. I thought. I used a pen to make a grocery list on paper. I walked my dog, and then, because I had nothing else to do, I took her to the dog park. “See how present I am!” I thought, as she cowered in a corner.

But by 8 p.m., I was counting down the minutes until the experiment ended. For better or worse, my life is online, and I wanted to live it. I also wanted to order a sports bra on the internet. And then the clock struck 9 and the experiment was over.

I had hoped to emerge a different person: someone who has a “night time routine” and “work/life balance.” Someone who enjoys “candles” and “beach vacations;” the kind of person who does not sleep cuddling her phone. I did not. Over the course of my Tech-Free Sundays, I did not spend any time on my “personal artistic projects,” like the tech-free Sunday bloggers said I might. Nor did I particularly bond with the people close to me, because while I was very present, all I could talk about was Tech-Free Sunday. Also, they were mostly on their phones.

And yet I loved it. Or at least, I liked it? Or at least, I would recommend you do it, once or twice, just to see. There is so much time, when you are disconnected from the internet; it is shocking, how much time there is. I don’t know that I will continue Tech-Free Sundays, but I will continue taking tech-free baby steps: leaving my phone at home; reading book-shaped books; spending intentional periods away from my computer.

Cutting myself off from technology was a temporary reprieve from the looming dread that someone might ask something of me. How could they? I imagined I would find this stressful, all this not-knowing—What if someone wanted something? What if I was being awarded a very urgent prize?—but it’s really quite easy to adjust to a total lack of demands. I didn’t know what anyone else was doing, in real life or on Instagram, and it was a relief, for one day only, not to care.

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Americans Have Been Doing Hard Cider Wrong Forever, and It’s Time to Change

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We’ve been wrong about hard cider for so, so long. For the past few decades, cider has been sold to us as a sweet, gluten-free alternative to beer. But from the process of growing and harvesting fruit to fermenting its juices, this is a drink that has much more in common with wine.

Now that American cider makers are embracing old-school, hands-off fermentation techniques and heirloom apple varieties, cider is getting a well deserved rebrand. It turns out that in this punk rock-ish era of natural wine, there’s just as much unconventional flavor to explore in naturally fermented and spontaneously fermented ciders. If you already have a thing for skin contact wines, you’ll feel right at home, and if you don’t, well, this is a beautiful new world to explore.

The epicenter of the naturally fermented cider movement is the Northeast, the Napa Valley of the American cider world. From New York’s Finger Lakes to southern Maine, heritage apples (native breeds that you probably won’t find at your grocery store) have been growing for more than 300 hundred years. It’s here that cider makers are embracing fermentation techniques that are just as old, turning blends of wild and orchard-grown apples into still and sparkling apple wines that contain tantalizing acidity, tannins, and whispers of the lands in which they were grown. (Yes, you can also call them apple wines. And no, we won’t judge you.)

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Photo by Alex Lau

A sparkling apple wine from Vermont’s Fable Farm.

Small-scale producers like Vermont’s Fable Farm Fermentory, use yeasts native to the area instead of controlled industrial blends for ciders that taste nothing like Mott’s. “The key is to step out of nature’s way by not filtering, heating, or manipulating the wine with ecology-destructing chemicals,” explains Fable co-founder Jon Piana. “The result is an electric symphony of flavor that, if we’ve succeeded, evolves even in the glass.”

So how do we find a naturally fermented cider that gets it right? Reading the bottle is a good place to start. Here’s what to look for:

“Wild” or “Naturally” Fermented
This distinction means that the yeast used to turn the apple sugars into alcohol was collected from the fruits’ environment (in the air or on their skins) rather than grown in a lab. The resulting fermentation reflects the terroir and provides deeper, funkier flavors like lemon pith, strawberries, sage, or bleu cheese (in a good way).

Sparkling/Still
Not all cider is bubbly! Like wine, there are still and sparkling varieties. For a smooth drinking experience, go still. For a livelier one, bubbly.

Unfiltered
You might see a little sediment at the bottom of your bottle. That’s totally cool! It’s the leftover bits of yeast and apple that usually get filtered out of the finished product. They help give the cider that wild flavor we’re after.

Raw
Pasteurization kills all of the living bacteria and yeast in a cider, making it more shelf stable. If a cider is “raw,” it was not pasteurized, giving it a tingling vibrancy in both body and flavor. Think fresh-squeezed orange juice versus the stuff that comes in the carton.

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Photo by Alex Lau

A line-up of some of our favorite ciders.

Apple Variety
Most ciders are made from a blend of apple varieties, but you want to see specific names, like Northern Spy, Golden Russet, or Newtown Pippin, listed. Avoid anything that just says just “apple juice.”

Concentrate
Definitely steer clear of the word concentrate. Large-scale apple juice is often shipped across countries and continents as a concentrate, because it’s less expensive, and then gets diluted before it makes its way into the final product. The process results in cider with a fraction of the flavor of fresh juice.

The Source
Good cider will tell you where the apples came from, most of the time down to the orchard or farm. We tend to prefer natural ciders from the Northeast, but California, Michigan, and the Northwest also produce high-quality stuff.

The Producer
Exploring new producers is half of what makes drinking these wild ciders exciting. But there are certain producers we trust to make ciders we’ll be returning to again and again. Here are six of our favorites:

Oyster River Wine Growers – Warren, ME
Blackduck Cidery – Ovid, NY
Rocky Ground Cider – Newburgh, ME
Redbyrd Orchard – Trumansburg, NY
Fable Farm Fermentory – Barnard, VT
Sundstrom Cider – Hudson Valley, NY

Want to learn more about spontaneous fermentation? This way, friends:

ba25-fermentation-final.jpg

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Make This Halibut Recipe That’s Slow-Roasted in Garlic Cream, Because It Was a Hard Week

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The hands-off method for slow-roasting fish in the oven is tried and true for me. Instead of babysitting a piece of salmon on the stove, I can slide it in the oven for about half an hour and it will poach in olive oil and aromatics until tender, flaky, and never dry. But when fall temps hit and I start to crave comfort food, I’m gonna make our new recipe for halibut and fennel cooked in garlic cream my go-to.

Cooking in two pints of cream sounds insane and decadent, because it is. The result is effectively a carbless chowder (fennel subs in for potatoes) that’s filling without weighing you down. The slow-cooking cream helps melt away the sharp edges of eight cloves of thinly sliced garlic and bulb of anise-y fennel that go with it, all while keeping the fish tender at the same time. And it only takes about 20 minutes. The best part is that you can choose your own adventure when it comes to the garlic-infused goodness: Go for a little drizzle over the top of the filet, or ladle on a lot to make yourself more of a soup (highly recommended if you’ve had a day). A condiment of an entire lemon (zest + juice), fennel fronds, olive oil, and black pepper goes on top, adding a punch of fresh, bright flavor that cuts through the fat. Just make sure to use a neutral-tasting olive oil (I made mine with super peppery version and it threw things off balance).

oven polenta with roasted mushrooms and thyme

I served my halibut over polenta to make it taste kind corn-and-fish chowder.

Ideally you should make this for a group and not have any leftovers (I ate mine over some leftover polenta—also slow-cooked in the oven!—to emulate a fish-and-corn chowder vibe), but should you find yourself with remains, you’ve got options. Senior food editor Andy Baraghani, who developed this recipe, suggests straining the cream, heating it up over low in a large skillet, and letting it thicken slightly (simmer, not boil—it will break!) before dropping in some cooked pasta. Wham: you’ve got a garlicky, cheeseless alfredo sauce (save a little pasta water in case you need to thin it out). Eat it as is, or top with some reheated fennel and flaked halibut. For an even bigger upgraded, you can make a quasi-brandade (a.k.a. salt cod spread) by combining whipped boiled potatoes with the fish, cream, and a bit of olive oil, broiling it, and then spreading it all on toast. That’s dinner one night, and a party appetizer the next.

It’s rare to make fish that you want to eat for multiple meals, and maybe my doctor wouldn’t recommend eating this much garlic cream. But after a long day, knowing that I can make a comforting dish in half an hour and have repurposeful leftovers is a win-win. Let’s just say I can’t wait ‘til it’s cold.

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