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{Taste} the Holidays // Holiday Recipe eBook 2014

We are very happy to announce that our first ever eBook is ready! {Taste} the Holidays features six favourite holiday recipes from chefs across Ontario; three savoury and three sweet. It even includes some pro tips on how to prepare the perfect seared duck breast, courtesy of Executive Chef Spencer Vail of Benmiller Inn.

Of the six, two are from Huron County (Benmiller and Hessenland), one is from Lanark County (South Pond Farms), one is from Simcoe County (Ciboulette et Cie), one from Northumberland County (Trattoria Gusto), and one from Norfolk County (The Combine Norfolk). In addition, two of the recipes are from FeastON designees. Of course, all are guaranteed to be delicious! Plus, the book itself is pretty darn good-looking, if we do say so ourselves.

The recipe pictured above maximizes the flavour of roasted chestnuts in a thoroughly wintry soup, but I think my favourite is the Old Fashioned Mince Pie in a Jar that’s featured on the cover.

Here’s the catch: we’re sending this eBook to our mailing list subscribers only! We have a pretty dedicated group of subscribers, and we thought it was high time we gave them a little something extra. If you haven’t subscribed yet, what are you waiting for? Use the button below or on the top right of our website sidebar to enter your email address in our subscription form.

Subscribe to Ruralist!

You may not get your eBook instantaneously, but sit tight: it will be in your inbox shortly!

A heartfelt thank you to all of our contributors, and also to our dedicated fans and followers — your shared interest in the best things to see, do, and buy in rural Ontario continues to inspire us.

Merry Christmas!

Erin, Sandra, and Sarah

  • Michele Rose - Love your website!!!ReplyCancel

    • Sarah Koopmans - Thanks so much, Michele! Thanks for subscribing!ReplyCancel

-Guest Post by Nicole Anderson of Om Yoga Studio in Grand Bend

Get Zen This Christmas

Christmas seems like a whirlwind, with cards to write, presents to buy and turkey to roast. How do we do it all and stay sane? Maybe this is the year for you to stop for a moment and check in with yourself. By noticing how you feel and being mindful of your emotions you might in fact give yourself one of the greatest gifts of the holidays, the gift of true inner peace. Here are 10 ways you can adopt the principals of yoga in your everyday activities to make this Christmas a little more merry and bright:

1. Breathe — This is essential to life and the simplest way to centre yourself.

2. Be aware —  Notice your energy levels: take some time to rest when you need to. Make the time, sit in a chair, put your feet up.

3. Give yourself permission —  Everything doesn’t have be perfect: Remember, if the tree isn’t perfect or the cookies don’t turn out, don’t fret. Christmas isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being with family and friends. Surrender and allow yourself to be in the present moment. Reduce the stress: Maybe this is the year to forgo gift giving?

4. Take care of your body – Eating right: enjoy the treats that Christmas has to offer but balance them with plenty of fruits and veggies.

5. Be intentional – When you’re shopping, set a goal and make sure it’s realistic. Maybe it’s easier to shop online?

6. Spread good karma – Take some time to donate your time or resources to others in need. This is a great way to remind yourself of the true spirit of Christmas.

7. Show some love and compassion – This one might seem obvious, but perhaps it gets lost in the business of the holiday. An easy way to be more mindful of this might be to re-read those Christmas cards you’ve received and think about the sincerity of the messages.

8. Have gratitude – As much as Christmas is about celebrating traditions, it is a chance to show your appreciation for those who make a difference in your life. Being grateful is both about giving and receiving gratitude.

9. Let others help you – Often times we overextend ourselves. Find ways to feel supported. Give yourself a break and order in or just let go of the small stuff. We have trouble asking for help. Delegate! So the kids decorated the tree and it isn’t perfect. Try to be less rigid about your own expectations.

10. Be accepting – Accept other peoples’ imperfections.  Accept that everything changes and the holidays don’t have to be exactly the same year after year. Maybe it’s time to start a new tradition – that of acceptance!

Ruralist County Cocktail Party

(from left, Sarah Koopmans, Sandra Regier and Erin Roy)

It’s Party Time at Ruralist and You’re Invited!

We’ve been working hard at Ruralist this year to share more of the best things to see, do and buy across rural Ontario. So we decided to take a little time out to celebrate. What does a Ruralist celebration look like? Well, of course it has to include delicious drinks and snacks inspired by food regions across the province. So, we’re having a Ruralist cocktail party today but don’t worry, you don’t have to do a thing, just enjoy our tasty party fare photographed by our very own Sandra Regier. For your conveneince we have also included downloadable and printable copies of all of our recipes too!

Food and Drink from Seven Regions Across Ontario

With an abundance of diverse agriculture and farming across the province, each part of Ontario inspires different ingredients. The only difficulty we had in planning the cocktail party was choosing among them all. Although our menu of cocktails and appetizers may not be exhaustive, we’ve tried to hit several of the highlights and incorporate a variety of locally sourced ingredients. What you will see below is a culmination of our individual styles and preferences for a unique sampling of sips and snacks you should definitely try at home.

County Cocktail Party 2

Niagara – The land of tender fruit, Niagara offers some of the finest produce in the world. To represent this food region Sandra started with a jar of homemade canned Niagara peaches from her pantry and paired them with brie, basil and a balsamic resuction and turned it into a tasty appetizer pizza. The drink selected to complement her appetizer aptly began with Dillon’s gin, locally distilled in Beamsville. Paired with muddled pears and lime, it’s a perfect choice for a refreshing Cranberry cocktail. For ingredients and step-bystep instructions on how to prepare these recipes print out or download our handy recipe guide for Niagara Peach and Brie Pizza with Balsamic Reduction and Dillion’s Cranberry Cocktail.

Windsor-Essex – Often referred to as Ontario’s banana belt, this region of Ontario is home to two of our favourite local food producer’s Park’s Blueberries and Colio Estate Wines, makers of Girls Night Out Sparkling Wine. Put those two ingredients together and you get A blueberry Mojito Royale that is sure to impress your cocktail party guests. To accompany this sparkly drink we’ve add an appetizer with some crackle. This hors d’oeuvre involves only a few simple ingredients and can be served at room temperature. It’s crispy crunch bacony goodness that we absolutely loved! To make your own Blueberry Mojito Royale and Maple Bacon Crackle you can download copies of the recipes here.

Eastern Ontario – To suit the craft beer fans at this cocktail party Sarah selected Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale, brewed in Vankleek Hill. Paired with it are Lanark Cheesy Horseradish Stuffed Baby Potatoes made with Lanark County’s own Balderson Cheese. There’s something so delicious about the spicy hint of horseradish paired with the smooth taste of the Lug Tread that work perfectly together. These recipes are available for download and printing here.

County Cocktail Party 1

Perth County – Home to one of our favourite Slow Food markets, we have become acquainted with many artisanal food prodcuers in this area. To represent this region we have selected Monforte Dairy feta as the key ingredient in our Monforte Sheep Feta and Jalapenos Tartlets. We’ve chosen a hot apple cider, a winter time staple, and prepared it with a cinammon and a spiced dark rum to complement the sweetness, warmth and zing of the jalapenos. For a savoury little add on we’ve included these delicious honey garlic pepperettes from The Whole Pig, located in Dashwood, just northwest of Perth County. For a copy of our Perth C0unty inspired recipes click here.

Manitoulin Island – To capture Manitoulin Island’s food essence there simply must be Hawberries included in the ingredients. This simple berry is iconic on the island and works perfectly in our “Manitoulin Island” cocktail. This simple drink was created to symbolizes the exotic and beautiful landscape in this region. We paired this with our Smoked Trout Blinis, because fresh Lake Huron fish is a must have when visiting Manitoulin Island. The Hawberry Syrup in our Manitoulin Island cocktail is a product of Hawberry Farms, located on Manitoulin Island. For a printable and downloadable recipe guide for our Manitoulin Island inspired cocktail and appetizer click here.

Bruce & Simcoe County – Lamblicious meatballs with tzatziki sauce, need I say more? How about YUM! Pair that up with a Collingwood Whisky Sour and you’ve got a party. Sarah has incredible taste when it comes to food and drink and these meatballs made from Lamblicious free range lamb in South Bruce are mighty fine. Try making this homemade tzatziki sauce and you’ll never buy store made again. The Collingwood Whiskey Sour is made with Ontario’s own Collingwood Whiskey, a blended Canadian whiskey that’s mellowed in 100% hard maple wood casks.  For a copy of our Bruce & Simcoe inspired recipes click here.


Huron County – To enjoy the night life in Ontario’s land of sunsets, we’ve opted for a Huron County pick me up drink. The sweet finish to our County cocktail party is an Ontario’s West Coastal Specialty Coffee made from Coastal Coffee with a 1 oz. shot each of coffee liqueur and light rum topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. Accompanying our coffee are a selection of cookies and squares from Bayfield’s The Black Dog Pantry, where their in-house pastry chef makes them fresh each day.

We hope you have enjoyed our get together and it’s inspred you to incorporate more of Ontario’s fine food and drink ingredients the next time you’re entertaining. Thanks for reading Ruralist and sharing it with your social media friends. Together we can spread the word about the incredible things to see, do and buy in rural Ontario.


Sarah, Sandra and Erin

  • Karen - This is great – you should get something from Oxford County such as Gunn’s Hill 5 Brother’s cheese from just outside Burgessville, Ont. not far from where you used to work Erin. Not sure if you would remember me, but, I am in the EJ Ingersoll office BOA. I am really liking your blog. Keep up the good work.ReplyCancel

    • Sarah Koopmans - Thanks, Karen! Yes, Gunn’s Hill is excellent! There are so many more options from Ontario that we didn’t touch on for this collection but we definitely will in future!ReplyCancel


Meet Jana Rodwell Neps – Instragram Photographer and Nature Lover

Jana Rodwell Neps considers herself lucky to have been born and raised in beautiful Muskoka, Ontario. Now grown up and working as an Optician, Jana and her husband Ryan still live in the area. North Muskoka is where they reside with their two huskies Storm and Winter, and one kitty named Chloe. “I couldn’t ever imagine living anywhere else. My heart and soul is rooted here. From the winter wonderland that Muskoka becomes to the endless picturesque lakes and rivers and the vast forests and trails to explore, I feel lucky to call Muskoka my home!”

Jana is a nature and wildlife lover at heart. She’s inspired by the endless natural elements of the Muskoka landscape. Often found wandering the forest and hiking with her dogs, Jana spends her spare time capturing the incredible Muskoka scenery to share in Instagram. Two of her favourite places are Arrowhead Provincial Park and Algonquin Provincial Park because there nature is constantly changing. “With four beautiful seasons to experience, lush forests and an abundance of wildlife, I’m always reminded how truly amazing nature can be. I love to capture its beauty in a photo if possible.”

Jana, an amateur photographer who shoots almost all of her photos with her iPhone4S. Has devloped quite a following on Instagram where she is better known as jana_b_ananas. “I find the quality and options with the iPhone camera amazing! Though, I do own a Fuji DSLR as well, which I’m still learning to use. I use the Fuji for wildlife encounters, where a better quality zoom lens is needed.” Jana stumbled upon Instagram when it was recommended by a friend. “Since I’ve always been snap-happy with my camera, and I was instantly hooked on it! It’s a fun way to share my photos and the beauty of Muskoka.” Jana usually post at least one photo per day, and more if she’s had a good shooting day out in the forest. Despite thier beauty and rarity, Jana’s photos are not currently for sale at this time. So if you like them, you’ll have to follow Jana on Instagram if you want to see more of her work.

 Jana’s Muskoka Recommendations

“Muskoka is truly special. I can’t really put into words how amazing and unique it is. It’s definitely a place that once visited, is never forgotten.” One of Jana’s favourite shops is Muskoka Bear Wear. “It’s a must stop when visiting Muskoka. With adorable camp hoodies, sweats, their signature bear paw, and all products made in Canada, it’s truly unique and very authentic Muskoka. Although as a local Jana doesn’t often stay at many accommodations in the are,she recommends the historic and stunning Windermere House in Windermere, ONtario. Situated on Lake Rosseau, it’s a gorgeous spot full of history and natural beauty.



Give the Gift of Experience

What do you buy for the person who seems to have it all? Many of us are wracking our brains right now trying to answer this question. It’s sad to think of how often we find ourselves buying a ho-hum gift just for the sake of putting it under the Christmas tree solely so the receiver has something to unwrap. More than once I’ve felt the awkward anguish in that moment when the gift recipient has given me a somewhat weak-hearted “…thank you”. So this year I’m challenging myself to give more consideration to my Christmas gift selection, and have decided to give the gift of experience a try. Afterall, most of us don’t need more things, but almost all of us want to have more awesome experiences.

5 Reasons Why You Should Give the Gift of Experience

Giving the gift of experience assures that your gift will accomplish several things. First, you are guaranteed to give a gift that will be memorable. I can’t remember a single thing that I unwrapped last year, but I will never forget the theatre tickets I received to go see a play with my dad. Second, giving the gift of experience is a great way to try something new. If you’ve watched A River Runs Through It a dozen times, but never actually gone fly fishing, then this could be your year. Or, for the people in your life who PVR the Food Network and own at least 100 cookbooks, maybe it’s time to sign them up for real, live cooking lessons with a gourmet chef.

Third, giving the gift of experience is one of the greatest ways I can think of to shop local. I know you want to support our local Ontario economy, so this is the year to really put your money where your mouth is. Fourth, it’s unlikely the receiver will need to exchange it. Giving the gift of a special experience is definitely one size fits all, so no annoying trips back to the mall. Fifth, it’s very convenient. Rural Ontario is home to many world class experiences, and they are right in our own back yard. If you happen to dwell in Ontario then you won’t even need a buy plane ticket to enjoy yourself. The bottom line is, give a gift that makes a difference, to both the person you are giving it to and the person you are buying it from. All of the different experiences we have listed would be happy to offer a gift certificate or pre-booking in time for Christmas.

Gift Ideas For Everyone on Your Christmas List

For the Outdoorsy Types

Fly FishingFly Fitters is an Ontario fly fishing outfitter located on Ontario’s west coast near Goderich, on the doorstep of the scenic Maitland River. Fly Fitters provide all levels of anglers with exceptional fly fishing and outdoor fishing experiences. Owner Mike Verhoef offers guided fly fishing, spey fishing, and sport fishing adventures on the Maitland River, Bayfield River, and Saugeen River in SW Ontario, along the shore of Lake Huron, located near the town of Goderich, Ontario.

Dog-Sledding – Imagine a winter wonderland – snow sparkling, your dog team trotting softly ahead of you, while all you hear are the sleds runners whispering underneath you and the huskies breath in the crisp clean air. Winterdance is an Ontario dogsledding tour company that operates out of the Haliburton Highlands, Canada, alongside Algonquin park, and is owned and operated by husband and wife team Hank DeBruin and Tanya McCready-DeBruin. Discover the thrill of dogsledding by learning to drive a dogteam. Explore Haliburton’s breathtaking wilderness dog sledding in magical silence for a 2 hour, 1/2 day, full day, moonlite or multi-day dog sledding trip.

Sailing – Experience the crystal clear waters and magnificent vistas of the world’s largest freshwater lake. Sail to the Welcome Islands, hike the Sleeping Giant, photograph local island lighthouses, and then cap your day with a traditional Finnish sauna at Thompson Island. When night falls, snuggle up beside the campfire, light up the BBQ and enjoy the alluring aromas as you sit back, relax and marvel at the breathtaking milky-way twinkling brightly overhead. Sail Superior has the experience, the vessels and the captains to make Lake Superior into your own exotic adventure. Feel your worries and stress fall behind in the boat’s wake. Breathe in the clean fresh air. Anchor in a deserted cove and go for a hike in the unspoiled nature.

Horseback Riding - Looking for a horseback riding vacation in Ontario? Horse Play Niagara in Port Colbourne is sure to deliver a trail ride adventure you’ll never forget. Whether you’re a first time horseback rider or have been trail riding for years, their trail riding tours are sure to excite you.

For the Person Who Needs to Chill Out

Spa Vacation – Let down your hair, slip into a robe and leave your troubles at the door. A visit to Ste. Anne’s Spa is a chance to relax and heal in a warm, friendly and embracing environment. From the moment you walk in the front entrance you will see that Ste. Anne’s is different than other spas. Located in Grafton, Ste. Anne’s Spa has achieved a world-class status as a destination spa by concentrating on providing superior services and facilities to help each guest escape the every day and improve their physical and mental well-being.

Theatre TicketsBlyth Festival, located in the village of Blyth, is a professional repertory theatre that endeavours to enrich the lives of its audience by producing and developing plays that give voice to both the region and the country. Theatre adventurers can save a bundle by buying a season’s pass before Christmas.

For Quality Time with the Family

Museum Pass – Whether you are with the kids, a group of friends or on your own, the Explorer’s Pass is the best thing going for admission to many of rural (and urban) Ontario’s finest cultural venues. The $25 pass includes admission to any of the 20+ museums listed over a seven day period – a fantastic value when compared to paying regular price. Included are the always popular Cambridge Butterfly Museum and the Huron Historic Gaol, We suggest making a road trip out of it and stopping to visit the towns of Goderich, Fergus, Elora, St. Jacobs and St. Marys along the way.

Tinker Studio – Not just for kids, Tinker Studio is a place for all ages to explore with their curious and creative minds. Adults, youth and youngsters collaborate on ideas and learn from each other. This space is for people who have a sense of wonder and who are intrigued to explore it. Selena Hazlitt is founder of the Tinker Studio in Goderich. Selena is a dedicated life-long learner and entrepreneur, her belief is that everyone has skills and knowledge to share with others. Her goal is to foster a community of thinkers, designers, tinkerers and creators who share and inspire each other. Visit the website for updates on class times and prices.

For the Adrenaline Lover

Skydiving – If someone you love has always dreamed of gliding through the sky and free falling high above the earth, then maybe a gift certificate to the Grand Bend Sport Parachuting Centre is the perfect gift for them this Christmas. Gift certificates for first time jumpers or experienced sky divers are available. You’ll be in good hands with owners Bob and Mary Wright who will supervise your experience. Bob has been skydiving for more than 43 years; he’s done over 14,300 jumps (more than anyone else in Ontario) and accumulated over 149 hours of freefall time. He does over 200 jumps per year, many of them with beginners. His instructing experience spans more than 40 years during which he’s taught about 5000 first- timers.

Snowmobiling - Back Country Tours Snowmobile Tours is Canada’s premier backcountry snowmobile tour & rental company. Riding their endless groomed trails and fabulous deep forest scenery around Algonquin Provincial Park. With over 20 years of snowmobile experience in Ontario, Back Country Tours have perfected the art of riding. Whether you book a Back Country Tours Snowmobile Tour, custom package, a snowmobile rental or just need some gear or a guide for the day, Back Country Tours will deliver a quality product to ensure you have a awesome time.

Flight lessonsGolden Horseshoe Aviation (GHA) was launched in 2011 to provide busy professionals in the Golden Horseshoe Area of southern Ontario with an alternative flight training solution. GHA is a full service flight school operating at the John C Munroe – Hamilton International Airport and provides flight school training and serial sightseeing tours across the Golden Horseshoe Area. Their experienced instructors develop your training schedule to accommodate your busy schedule. GHA trains on a fleet of late model Cessna 172 and Diamond DA-20 airplanes that are equipped with modern avionics including integrated GPS and auto-pilot. As well they provide training in a comfortable ‘executive-class’ office and class room setting.

Hot Air Balloon RideCloud Chasers invites you to view Stratford, St. Marys and area as you’ve never seen before. Get carried away through the majestic skies with your pilot Zan, who started flying at the age of 4 and hasn’t been able to keep his feet on the ground since. Zan enrolled in specialized training in New Mexico and Ontario to gain his flight portfolio. This gained experience and training gives him the expertise in flight planning and decision making to make each and every flight unique.

White Water Rafting – Located along the shore of the mighty Ottawa River in Ontario just an hour west of Ottawa, Wilderness Tours is Canada’s premier adventure destination. Spend your days whitewater rafting, kayaking, and bungee jumping, hiking, and mountain biking. Then relax at the 600+ acre resort, enjoying their full bar and restaurant, sandy beaches, heated sports pool, hot tubs, and cozy accommodations.

For the Creative Type

Art Lessons – The Southampton Art School & Gallery is a non-profit registered charitable organization located in Southampton dedicated to celebrating the joy of creativity and developing artistic talent since 1957. Classes are offered in drawing, jewellery, painting, mixed media and more. See school calendar for daes and times of classes.

GlassblowingArtech Glassblowing Studios is a traditional glassblowing studio in the Haliburton Highlands, nestled in the rocks and woods of ghost town Tory Hill in an old United Church. Take a glassblowing course to learn the traditional glassblowing technique; gathering hot glass, using colour and tools and how to blow into the glass. You start off with making a paperweight and move into making a coloured glass ball, small drinking glass, vases and bowls.

Cooking Lessons – At Ciboulette et Cie in Midland their philosophy is to combine superb culinary skills with a passion for fresh local ingredients to create delicious food items to be enjoyed with family and friends. The cooking classes at Ciboulette et Cie feature seasonal and timely instruction on a variety of different culinary themes. From cold weather soups and stews to designer shoe cakes and everythig in between, the gorgeous restaurant and fine food shop will create a memorable cooking lesson experience for their students.

{Get} Five Great Children


The Village Bookshop in Bayfield is a go-to place for great book recommendations and advice on selecting the perfect book for friends and family.

Mary Brown and her staff really know their stuff!  The Village Bookshop ladies have introduced us to epic stories that have made deep and lasting impressions, and their author events are truly not to be missed.

Last year, Mary gave us a list of fabulous picture books that adults would love as well. This year, when we asked her for a list, Mary suggested Christmas  books for children — books you will look forward to unpacking and reading to your children during the holiday season year after year.

This post is also a farewell to Mary: she has sold the shop to a fellow book lover named Martha, but will continue to inspire children through reading as a school librarian. Thanks for the many excellent recommendations, Mary, for the conversations we’ve had about authors, and for always being warm and friendly. We wish you all the best in your new endeavour.

Now, to Mary’s list. Since we know true book lovers as a rule don’t buy a book based only on its cover, here are glimpses inside and introductions to each book:


Many families purchase a beautiful Christmas picture book as part of their annual holiday tradition. Looking to add to — or begin — your collection? Here are five of my favourites to consider. –Mary

{Get} Five Children

Little Santa | Jon Agee | Hardcover| $19
Ever wonder what Santa was like as a child? Award-winning author/illustrator Jon Agee brings us the funny, playful answer in this Christmas picture book destined to become a classic.

Little Santa loves the North Pole. The rest of his family? Not so much. So, when they decide to move to Florida, Santa is miserable. Lucky for him (and us!), a blizzard foils their plans. The only way out of the house is up the chimney. Up goes Santa, to look for help, and along the way, he meets a reindeer and a large group of elves, who are more than eager to join in the rescue!

{Get} Five Children

Dashing Through the Snow: A Canadian Jingle Bells | Helaine Becker | Hardcover | $16.99
Porcupine and his Canadian friends are back in this companion to the #1 National Bestseller A Porcupine in a Pine Tree!

Join in the merriment and mayhem as a wild (and familiar) cast of Canadian characters take over the Christmas holidays once again. With the same jolly rhymes and infectious energy that made A Porcupine in a Pine Tree an instant classic, this Canadian twist on “Jingle Bells” is the must-have, must-give book for the holidays.

{Get} Five Great Children

Eight Jolly Reindeer | Ilanit Oliver | Board book | $7.99

A shaped board book with tabs and glitter featuring Santa’s eight adorable reindeer!

Young readers will love counting down from eight to one in this adorable story book featuring Santa’s famous reindeer! The familiar, catchy rhymes combined with Jacqueline Rogers’s soft, sweet illustrations make this a perfect story to celebrate Christmas!

{Get} Five Great Children

The Hockey Sweater Thirtieth Anniversary Edition | Roch Carrier | Hardcover | $21.99

The Hockey Sweater is a Canadian children’s classic. This beautiful anniversary edition include lots of extras, including original material from the author and illustrator, stills from the animated film, letters and quotes from celebrities and more. This is a wonderful collector’s edition for those who know the book, and a wonderful introduction to those who don’t.

{Get} Five Great Children

A Little Women Christmas | Heather Vogel Frederick | Hardcover | $21.99
A cherished holiday scene from a beloved classic comes to life in this festive, cozy picture book homage to Little Women.

It’s almost Christmas, and Jo March is determined that this year, unlike the last, there will be presents. It is in this spirit that she and her dear friend Laurie build a snow maiden for poor, sick Beth. The next day, Beth is thrilled with her present, and each of the girls, in turn, receives a little something from the others. But the best gift of all arrives when Papa, who has been away at war and ill, makes a surprise return home for Christmas dinner.

With a timeless message of goodwill and giving and stunning painted artwork, A Little Women Christmas makes a perfect gift for fans of Louisa May Alcott’s literary treasure as well as for anyone who appreciates the true meaning of Christmas.


Be sure to visit The Village Bookshop website to find out how to connect with Martha and her staff to order these and other excellent books in their stock. Expect friendly personalized service, and tell them Ruralist sent you!



We like to make the most out of “the most wonderful time of year” and extend the holiday season as much as possible. Each year our family looks forward to taking in a new Christmas experience in different places around Ontario. We’ve made many wonderful memories together and enjoyed the hospitality of many Ontario communities by exploring these special events. Here are a few of our favourites to share with your family.

Catch the Christmas Spirit

1. St. Marys Festive Outdoor Light Display – Take a horse drawn carriage ride around Milt Dunnell field from Dec. 20-28 (excluding Dec. 25 & 26th) between 6:30 & 8:30 pm. To see thousands of twinkling lights light up the pretty riverside park. St. Marys is a fantastic destination for holiday shopping and dinner out. See why we love this picturesque town by checking our A Day in St. Marys Ruralist feature.

2. SIMCOE CHRISTMAS PANORAMA RIVER OF LIGHTS – Now in it’s 56th year, millions of twinkly lights will be turned on nightly beginning Saturday November 29th for five weeks of festivities that would get Ebenezer himself into the spirit of the season. Crowds will gather to sing carols along with the live entertainment, witness the honorary guests light the park for the first time and cheer as Santa arrives on the antique fire truck. If you’re heading to Simcoe for the evening we recommend you make dinner reservations at the BLUE ELEPHANT or head to DAVID’S in nearby Port Dover for a truly memorable dining experience. Simcoe Christmas Panorama 2014 runs from Nov. 29, to Jan. 4, 2014.

3. FIRST LIGHT AT SAINTE-MARIE AMONG THE HURONS – Picture 5000 candles illuminating the grounds of this historic settlement in Midland. The magic begins when visitors approach the candlelit historic site where a beautiful amber glow lights this famous 17th-century mission. A colourful historic encampment will greet visitors, set up by the popular “Survival In The Bush” group. Visitors can then stroll the candlelit paths which lead to a variety of fun family activities. The cookhouse is filled with the sights and smells of delicious baked goods and cookie samples available for tasting. Historic blacksmithing will also be demonstrated, and a Nativity crèche will be on display in the stables near the Farmer’s Dwelling. Always popular with little folks, corn husk doll making will be offered in the Sainte-Marie foyer. The 15th annual First Light is held from 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm Nov. 27, 28 and 29th.

4. CHRISTMAS IN MERRICKVILLE – One of the most delightful Christmas events in eastern Ontario, Merrickville has three days of epic holiday events to enjoy. The Village Lighting Ceremony and horse-drawn wagon rides are only two of the many special traditions. A chili tent, street entertainment and loads of fantastic shopping await you in this quaint village. Christmas in Merrickville is held on Sat. December 6 from 9 am to 9 pm.

5. CHRISTMAS AT CASTLE KILBRIDE – For an unforgettable Christmas experience take a breathtaking journey into Victorian splendour in Baden. Take in the extraordinary decorations during Christmas at the Castle from November 19 to December 30 or visit for a special evening tour on Thurs. December 5 where, for one night only, families and visitors are invited to marvel at the glitter and glamour of the decked out 1877 home at night. Live entertainment will bring the house to life. After your tour, visit with Santa and then enjoy a cup of good old fashioned hot apple cider. Christmas at Castle Kilbride runs from Nov. 18 to Dec. 4, 2014.

6. Sloan’s Christmas Tree Village & U-Cut – Cut your own tree and enjoy a day of family activities. The Sloan families have worked hard for the past 30 years to provide a quality Christmas tree for this very special holiday season. In recent years, they have begun to provide wholesome family activities to compliment your tree cutting experience. Their desire is to become an annual tradition for your family. To simply cut a tree, bale it and head back to your car, as you would typically do will take only about an hour. However, to experience the Village with its many activities and patches of trees could take up to a whole day. Take train ride, roast marshmallows over one of the 300 campfires, visit the petting zoo, straw bale maze, the zip line and more! Sloan’s is open from 10 am to 5 pm on week days and 9 am to 5 pm on weekends.

7. CP Rail Holiday Train – Think of them as brightly-decorated railcars full of Christmas cheer. A fund-raiser for food banks in Canada and the U.S., the CP Holiday Trains — one travels through Canada, the other in the U.S. — have covered over 100,000 miles and raised close to $9.5 million and 3.3 million pounds of food since the program started in 1999. The Holiday Trains make stops in communities across Ontario service offering free concerts and seasonal festivities from a boxcar they’ve turned into a travelling stage. Over the three weeks of the program, the musicians on board the trains will play more than 150 free concerts from their boxcar stage. This year we are lucky to feature the star talent of musicians such as Roxanne Potvin, Odds, Tracey Brown and Jim Cuddy on our Canadian Train. The concerts are free, but you’re encouraged to make a donation to the local food bank—either a non-perishable food item or a cash donation. All contributions will stay within your local community.

8. Ridgeway’s Spirit of Christmas – Let the “Spirit of Christmas” put you in the festive mood. Join in this Dickens-style Christmas event on Dec. 5 & 6 with a candlelight walk through town to the Museum for the lighting of the tree and enjoy a horse & carriage ride down the main street. Keep warm with some hot chocolate and go from shop to shop taking care of your Christmas list. The historic community of Ridgeway is the famous site of an 1866 invasion by Fenians (Irish-American Civil War veterans) attempting to “liberate” Upper Canada from Britain and “barter” it for Irish home rule. Ridgeway is home to two of Greater Fort Erie’s public museums and several historic sites. Ridgeway Battlefield Museum (in a cabin restored to its 1860’s appearance) contains a prized collection of paintings depicting the Fenian Raids and Battle of Ridgeway.


Find The Perfect Hostess Gift 

Last weekend was the unofficial kick-off of my holiday season. It a time of year when I never want to show up empty handed, but what to get for the hostess who has everything? On my way to the party I stopped off at Bradshaws for a quick peek at their gift selection and WOW! do they have a selection! I found exactly what I was looking for AND my present was beautifully wrapped by one of Bradshaws’ fantastic sales staff.

If you’re looking for great gift ideas, here are a few from the retailer extraordinaire herself, Bradshaws owner Carrie Wreford. They are all available in their online store. But if you’re in the Stratford area, be sure to stop in and browse through her beautiful store in person at 129 Ontario St.

Carrie Wreford’s Hostess Gift Ideas

It’s Holiday time, and if you’re anything like me, you’re going to be visiting with LOTS of friends and family this season and you’re just TIRED of bringing the ol’ standby bottle of wine. Here are some tried, tested and true FAVOURITE hostess gifts to bring along. WARNING: Only give these items if you WANT to be invited back!

1. Dillon’s Bitters $16.95
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, we just LOVE Dillon’s Bitters. Dillon’s Distillery is Canada’s very own, right in the heart of the Niagara region. Their extensive line of bitters is a barware essential and the KEY to crafting the perfect cocktail! Think of Dillon’s bitters as the “salt and pepper” to your cocktail creations, elevating them to the next level of deliciousness. Add a few drops to your gin and tonic or cosmopolitan, a teaspoon when you’re making homemade ice cream, or a few dashes in your shortbread cookies. Bring along a bottle of vodka and your Dillon’s Cranberry Bitters and you will certainly be the life of the party! Proudly Made in Ontario.

2. Wine Glass Writer Pens – Set/3 $12.95
Ever set your wine glass down at a party and forgotten if it’s yours or someone else’s? Enter Wine Glass Writer Pens… fun pens that write easily on glassware and dinnerware. Write your guests’ name directly on their wine glass so they don’t get theirs mixed up while schmoozing, or write their name on their dinner plate instead of putting place cards at each seat. You can have a lot of fun with these… trust me! Your hosts will love you for bringing these along!

3. High Heel Shoe Wine Caddy – Red Glitter $24.95
If you have already picked up a bottle of wine, why not add a little sparkle by presenting it in a High Heel Shoe Wine Caddy! Your hostess will LOVE setting her glittery red shoe in the middle of her dinner table for all to gawk at. Glamourous AND practical… I love that!

4. The King George Christmas Pudding – $19.95
For Anglophiles or lovers of the show Downton Abbey, or just anyone who appreciates a home made, flavour packed festive Christmas Pudding. The King George Christmas Pudding is a fragrant, lovely end to any Christmas dinner with friends and family. This traditional Christmas treat is MADE IN CANADA and featured in the Holiday edition of the LCBO Magazine! Get it here while we still have them! Limited quantities available.

5. Sloane Fine Tea Company – Mint Chocolate Loose Leaf Tea $16.95
An exceptionally rich-bodied Assam black tea blended with pure peppermint leaves and Brazilian cocoa nibs creates a deeply smooth flavour with a refined mint finish and enticing chocolate linger. This fine tea is the perfect hostess gift that is as indulgent as it is practical. The incredible packaging may be familiar to you if you have visited Harrods as Sloane products are carried there as well! This tea company is Canadian, and all the Sloane teas are specifically blended by owner and certified Tea Sommelier Hoda Paripoush.

6. Stonewall Kitchen Holiday Jam $12.95
Holiday Jam from Stonewall Kitchen has become a Bradshaws foodie favourite and a staple gift during the holiday season. Perfect for toast, scones, glazes and baking holiday cookies, this beautifully gift-boxed jam makes the perfect hostess gift. A hint of orange liqueur brings out the cheerfulness of ripe pears, tart cranberries and sweet raspberries in Stonewall Kitchen’s very special jam. The bright cheerful colour and incredible taste make this holiday jam a wonderful addition to your holiday brunch table.

7. Dammit Doll $19.95
Your guests are early, DAMMIT. Your hair isn’t cooperating, DAMMIT. You burned your main dish, DAMMIT. Your in-laws are coming, DAMMIT. SO many reasons why Dammit Dolls make the PERFECT gift for just about anyone with a sense of humour. Each Dammit Doll comes with a The Dammit Doll credo, written on a label sewn to the doll, and it is as follows:

Whenever things don’t go so well,
And you want to hit the wall and yell,
Here’s a little Dammit Doll that you can’t do without.
Just grasp it firmly by the legs and find a place to slam it.
And as you whack the stuffing out, yell Dammit, Dammit, Dammit!

8. Michel Design Works Christmas Wonderland Foaming Hand Soap $12.95
This lovely decorative foaming shea butter hand soap comes from the wonderful British company Michele Design Works. It makes a great bath and body gift because it is pretty, useful and adds a splash of Christmas to any powder room. Perfect for the person who doesn’t want you to bring anything (although they really DO!)

9. Kate Spade Be Dazzling Candle $39.95
Kate Spade has seriously been flying off the shelves at Bradshaws. It’s a wonderful, quirky and sophisticated line from New York City. People have been loving the designs (and prices) and they are all beautifully packaged and very girly. Very Carrie Bradshaw – at Bradshaws!!!  Once this candle has burned down, re-use the tumbler for your makeup brushes at home or stylishly store your pens and pencils at the office!





Refers to the style and appearance of printed matter. Typography is the art or procedure of arranging type printing from it and is the visual component of the written word. As you can see from these beautiful images, typography can be very emotional when juxtaposed with maps and images of these rural Ontario communities. I’ve loved fonts and text for as long as I can remember. For some reason putting them together in a typographic way invokes a powerful sense of pride and excitement for the communities represented.

Several of the creators of these beautiful images have numerous others that you might like to see. If you are looking for one that isn’t presently in their inventory you could always ask for them to make a custom image, I’m sure they would be happy to assist.


Where to Find Typographical Maps

Norfolk County - Designed by Norfolk based graphic designer Ryan Szucs. This is a typographic representation of the hamlets, villages and towns that are in Norfolk. Each hand screen printed poster measures 12.5″ wide by 19″ tall. They are available for purchase at 13 Reasons located at 361 Main Street in Port Dover.

Sarnia Skyline – Made by Calgary based Bugsy & Sprite, their city skyline shop was created in with the goal of providing modern and useful art. City skylines are their specialty and custom orders are welcome. Bugsy & Sprite can work with you to create a memory of a city you love, a children’s print for your nursery or a custom cocktail print for an upcoming wedding.

CollingwoodCartocreative Owners and designers are Steve and Mel of Hamilton, Ontario. Together they create each map and skyline by hand, revisiting past memories and being introduced to destinations they have yet to discover. They digitize every print so they can be customized to represent the connection each person has with a location, whether that be with a quote, a specially placed heart, or a path of their first date.

Bruce County – When designer Louise Jessup of FabulousFelties in Kitchener, Ontario opened her shop in 2011, needlefelting was her main crafting passion. In September of 2013, she added modern and funky typographic maps to the mix. Today she offers a combination of both crafting loves – needlefelting and graphic design. Custom orders are always welcome.

Tillsonburg – This is a black and white reproduction of a bird’s eye view panoramic map of Tillsonburg Ontario in 1881, and it was originally drawn by the Pennsylvania-based artist Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler. Fowler was one of a handful of itinerant city map illustrators that made a complete career out of the genre in the 1800s, making (as far as the Library of Congress knows) 411 different panoramic maps between 1868 and his death in 1922. He’s responsible for this and a small group of other Canadian maps. You can purchase a copy of this illustration from Civic Atlas based in Montreal.



Shop Local from these Northern Ontario Artisans

We love shopping rural and local over the holidays. Not only can we find high quality, well-made products, we actually get to support a real person with a big dream. Plus, it’s a gift that keeps on giving, when the dollars spent trickle back down to our local Ontario economy. Now supporting local Ontario businesses has never been easier thanks to convenient websites like Etsy.

This year we’re doing our virtual shopping in Northern Ontario. To get us started we reached out to Reneé Anne – a watercolour artist in Sault St. Marie to ask her for some direction on who we should be looking at. Reneé enthusiastically responded and came up with a fantastic shortlist of six recommended Etsy shop owners from across northern Ontario. Take a peek at their shop and see their beautiful handcrafted items for yourself. Remember, when you buy from a local artist your purchase means something and does good things for others far beyond the recipient of the gift.

Reneé Ann’s Recommendations

Lovely Body – Sarah Johnston from Lovely Body makes soap and body products in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She works from home and strives to make her beauty products as natural as possible. Johnston says “what goes on the outside of your body will inevitably make its way in!”. From simple soaps like Oatmeal, Milk and Honey to sparkly jewel shaped soaps, there is something for all ages at her shop. Give them as a gift or keep them for yourself!

Danielle Daniel paints and writes full-time from somewhere near Sudbury, Ontario. You can find her colourful original mix media paintings in various sizes and many are ready to hang. She says her work is inspired by “unwritten stories” and I know that they would bring a welcomed burst of colour and fun to any room. Check out this cool video about Danielle Daniel’s work.

Sew Whimsical by Katie – Katie Hughdie from Thunder Bay is the owner of Sew Whimsical by Katie. A long time sewer and a stay-at-home mom of three, she makes unique designs for children using vintage and re-purposed fabrics to encourage creative play. I especially love Hughdie’s dolls and softies that would surely be treasured by any child. Along with her Christmas stockings, cloth bunting and quilts many of her items can be customized, creating the perfect gift giving experience.

Quinn & Lane Catherine Stewart started Quinn & Lane because she wanted to improve on the baby accessories that are currently commercially available. Her shop is a baby’s chic accessory boutique based in Timmins. She was concerned with the functionality, style and safety of her products. This problem solving mom with scissors in hand has made it possible for you to find adjustable toddler belts, mitten clips, hazelwood necklaces and so much more made right here in Northern Ontario! Any new mom would be thrilled to be given anything from Quinn and Lane!

Billet Doux is located in Thunder Bay and makes hand-stamped jewelry, garden markers, key rings and so much more. Many items can be personalized with a loved ones name or custom message. Billet Doux even makes custom dog tags that would be a cherished gift for any dog owner in your life. Bringing together love and letters this shop makes thoughtful gift giving a breeze!

Beneath The Rowan Tree is located in South River, Ontario and owned by Lori Campbell. Campbell is a talented maker and designer who hand-makes natural toys in the Waldorf tradition. From beautiful and colourful hand-dyed Playsilks to felted toys, capes and so much more you’ll easily find a carefully made, creative toy for any child at her shop. She even offers some DIY’s and digital patterns for those who want to successfully try their hand at some creative working. I know first hand that Campbell’s Playsilks were enjoyed in our home for many years and inspired much creative play.

About Reneé Anne

Artist Renée Anne Bouffard-McManus creates from her home studio in assault Sault Ste. Marie. Her original paintings, archival reproduction prints, recycled stationery, party items and home accessories turn the everyday into a cherished occasion. Her Illustrations and art are designed to inspire beloved moments and capture treasured memories.

Renée Anne’s work has been seen in Babiekins, Apartment Therapy, A Cup of Jo, Style by Emily Henderson, Poppytalk, Eden’s Bouquet and Lecker Magazine! She has been included in the list of Top 25 Etsy Mom’s of 2013 by Babble. Browse through her Etsy store to find perfect gifts and thank you cards for for a hostess, teacher, family, friends or to keep for yourself. Party decor for holidays, first birthdays and children, bridal and baby showers, as well as for small intimate weddings to make your event a treasured one.