Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Our friends Karin and Dave have arrived with a truckload of their stuff. They're moving from Vernon to the Rusty Coast! Yippee!!
Gotta go help them unload their stuff. Talk to you all later.
Enjoy the sunshine!
Monday, September 25, 2006
So Thursday, I popped over to MalU for the Climate for Change Fall Fair. Talked to some very cool folks including Daryl from a Biodiesel group down in Duncan. The guy is running his car on veg oil from a freaking Chinese restaurant! I’m loving that J.
Supposedly, as long as you’ve got a diesel engine, you can run on used restaurant oil too. He even told me that the residual by-products are glycerin and soluble potash. Sounds great but what about the smell? I mean, I’ve spent much of my life smelling like bowels of a restaurant and one of the perks of my non-chef life is not having my whole body reek of eau de french fry. No worries, according to Darryl, most used cooking oil burns without a smell, with the exception of oils from fish ‘n chip shops. That was a bit strong, he warned. But you end up being very popular with cats…
Now onto Friday, um…
What the frig happened on Friday?
I started off with a trip over to Gabriola Island on Saturday morning. The morning promised a bright, shiny fall day and I was already peeling off my cardigan by the time I walked onto the 9:30am ferry.
I brought my knitting with me. I’m starting up the X’mas factory early. This year I’m knitting leaf-lace scarves for the gals and fisherman scarves for the guys. Let’s hope my wrists hold up. The 20 min. ferry ride over to Gabriola Island gave me time to squeeze in a few rows. Lately, I haven’t had much time for long knitting sessions with all that’s been happening. My first scarf of this bunch took a whole freaking week! It’s a good thing I’m getting an early start this year.The timing of the ferry was perfect with the start of the farmer’s market. By the time I wandered up the hill, it was opening up for business. I made my way to the back of the market, to the Good Earth farm stall. The table was heavy with the most beautiful veggies. There were raddichio the size of basketballs. The chard was bright and plump. I picked up a mesh bag of a variety of onions, some green beans and a couple of golden beets that were the size of baseballs. (What’s this weird compulsion to compare food to sports equipment?)
Right next to the farm stall was Slow Rise Bakery. Though they don’t use locally grown grains, they are on the right path with organic grains and artisan baking techniques. I picked up a dark chocolate panini to help fuel the rest of my morning. Didn’t you know, dark chocolate panini is the official breakfast of champions. Good thing since I ran out of the house with my belly tank near empty. The bread was chewy and had a good sour tinge to it. The chocolate was deep and bitter and generously filled the center of the bread. It’s one of those things that I think about baking myself but don’t for fear that I’ll just end up with a burnt tongue and in a sugar coma within 10 seconds after they come out of the oven.
I wandered down to the Auld Alliance Farm stall. There, the lovely Jocelyn, was selling her line of fruit infused vinegars, chutneys and mustards. The vinegars aren’t from a local producer, however the fruit she uses in them are from her own farm. Good enough for me. I am a huge fan of her fruit infused vinegar and she suggested the Pear Balsamic Vinegar this time. I picked up a small bottle and a couple of pounds of grapes from her. The grapes are also from her farm and were picked just the night before. Don’t they look like something out of Bacchus’ playground?
My final stop was Ike, the apple farmer. He was thrilled to hear that I was helping spread the 100 Mile Diet idea. I was thrilled to have farmers like him growing something other than the usual factory farm apples. He had around a dozen different varieties of apples and a few pears varieties today, including heritage varieties and some of my favorite baking varieties. I was doing a little inner-happy dance! Without any consideration for the hike back home, I ended up picking up several pounds of apples for a dollar a pound. Good thing my backpack has a good support system!
After a quick coffee stop, I headed back down to the docks just in time to catch the ferry back to Nanaimo. The hike back home along the seawall was filled with a jumble of ingenious scheming for my apple bounty, heron sightings, a quick snacking stop through a secret blackberry bush for the last of the season’s berries and a not-so-quick knitting stop on the breakwater.The afternoon was filled with a steady but mellow baking session, berry jamming and other preparations for the SOS Toy Run on Sunday. By the time the flour settled it was nearly 8pm and I hadn’t given much of a thought to dinner. I decided to whip up a pot of borsht. It’s one of my favorite cold weather peasant soups. BTW 'Peasant soup' is a fancy way of saying freaking dirt cheap.
Here’s my Fast & Dirty Borsht recipe
4-5 medium beets – peeled & chopped into bite size chunks
2-3 cups cabbage -shredded (doesn’t really matter what variety, they’re all good in this)
2 red onions- sliced fine
2 tbsp vinegar – either apple cider or balsamic. I used my locally grown apple cider vinegar.
Veggie stock 1-2 litres
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp Fats/oils – I used smoked bacon drippings for an extra layer of flavour and because it’s soooo good. It’s from locally smoked bacon from Quist Farm Meats. You can use whatever you have on hand
Basically, heat up the oil over medium heat. Throw in the red onions and let that caramelize up good and brown. Then simply toss in everything else. Add enough stock so it covers the ingredients plus a couple cups more for extra soupiness. Bring it to a boil then lower it to a simmer for 20-30 mins. Salt and pepper to taste. Voila! Fast and dirty borsht.
We had it with some Black Russian Rye that I baked and Hilary’s blue goat cheese, Sacre Bleu. Mon dieu, that’s my kind of peasant dinner!
Sunday started with a 6am wake-up call. After a couple rounds of snooze alarm bingo, I scrape myself out of bed and got going to the Coombs Rodeo Grounds for the S.O.S. Biker Toy Run. S.O.S. (Society of Organized Services), has been running this Toy Run for 23 years and they do such important work helping out families in need throughout the year.I big 'HELLO' to everyone at the SOS Biker Run. It was grand meeting you all!
It’s such a fun event for everyone and I got to meet some really interesting folks from all over the Island. I talked to the fella who runs the pink & purple ice-cream truck down at Maffeo-Sutton park. He’s planning on making fresh fruit smoothies and milkshakes using local cranberries and other berries next year. That’s so good to hear!
I gave out samples of locally grown food, encouraged folks to have a 100 Mile Thanksgiving and shared stories and insights with some kindred souls. Food is the constant connector, one of the few things that you can talk about with anyone, anywhere. We all have childhood memories and pivotal food moments that we love to share and that connects us with others. Many folks talked about past family Thanksgivings and the gathering of local bounty. Other shared with me recipes and even harvesting tips. I had a blast!
I made a cranberry-blueberry preserve from all locally grown products. It was a big hit. It’s basically 2 lbs of fresh/frozen cranberries (I got mine from Yellow Point Cranberries), 1 lb fresh/frozen blueberries, ½ cup – ¾ cup dark honey, 1 cup of unsweetened apple juice, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar. Dump the ingredients into a pot, bring it to a boil and let it simmer away for 20-30 until it's thickened up a bit. You can use sugar, preferably organic cane sugar since it imparts a nice caramel taste, instead of the honey. I like it a bit tart as a cranberry sauce or fruit spread. You can up the cider vinegar to 3 tbsp, throw in ¼ tsp hot red chili pepper flakes for a chutney.
At noon, the Toy Run rumbled out of the rodeo grounds. Hundreds of bikers took to the roads in a black leather, roaring snake-like caravan, collecting toys along the way so underprivileged kids will have something cool to unwrap on X’mas morning. I Heart Bikers.
I got home by the early evening and went for a wander down to the beach to soak up the last few rays of the weekend. Later on, Kevin and I had a rerun of last night's peasant meal, shared a bottle of Scrumpy cider from Merridale Cidery while watching Terminator 4. I know I said that I hate watching TV while eating dinner, but it just felt right to be eating real, homey food while watching a movie about technology destroying the world.
JenNanaimo 100 Mile Diet Challenge
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Just got back from Yellow Point Cranberries' Happy Turkey Night Fundraiser for L.S.S.
Look at pretty pictures
Cranberry candied yams
Roast Baby Back Riblets in spicy cranberry Asian sauce
Greens, Mangoes, Goat cheese, roasted pumpkin seeds salad with cranberry cilantro vinaigrette
Wild Rice and Cranberry Soup
Gorgonzola and Cranberry Quiche
Cream Cheese, Crab and Cranberry Quiche
Brie and Cranberry Triangles
Sushi: Featuring Cranberry Horseradish Wasabi ( veggie, fruit and seafood sushi)
Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
Pear-Cranberry Crumble Tarts
Chocolate Cranberry Fudge
Cheesecake Squares with Cranberry Sauces
Kevin had some work thing to do last night so I needed something I could make for myself and then serve to him with minimal fuss. I looked at what I had and figured I would do a grilled veggie salad and some charred flesh on the bbq and more of those yummy Peruvian purple potatoes I picked up from Duncan.
I grabbed some buffalo from Piper's Meats on Bowen Road. They have a cut of buffalo marked 'mock tender'. It's cut in steak form and had a ‘Perfect for BBQ’ sticker on it. That’s all I needed to know. It looked super-lean so I marinated it once I got home. When I say I marinated it, I mean, I threw it in a bowl and squirted some already made vinaigrette onto it and let it sit in the fridge until cooking. I often keep a vinaigrette in a plastic squirt bottle on the counter. It’s a great flavour enhancer for the obvious things like salads but also as a last minute flavour burst for pasta, soups, stews and even as a quick sauce for a otherwise plain piece of flesh. As mentioned, I also use it as a marinate for veggies and flesh. I still have some of that blueberry vinaigrette I made the other night. I used one part Marley Farm’s blueberry vinegar to one part olive oil, a smidgen of Dijon mustard. If you want, you can dump in some dried herbs and a clove of crushed garlic.
I also grilled up a bunch of corn, yellow peppers and red onion. The corn I started in the microwave. I shucked them and tossed them into a large microwave safe bowl along with enough water to cover the bottom of the bowl and nuked it for 6 mins on high. I left it in the microwave for a few extra minutes after it was done being nuked. The peppers and onions I chopped into quarters and threaded onto some skewers and doused with a few squirts of the marinate. The potatoes I simply boiled-up while I BBQed.
With the BBQ all preheated, I turned the heat on both sides to medium high and plopped my meat and veggies onto the grill. The buffalo needed about 5-6 mins on each side. They were cut about 2 inches thick. I just rotated the veggies every 3 or so mins so all the sides got some grilling.
I let the buffalo rest in a bowl, covered with a pot lid and assembled my grilled veggie salad. I cut the kernels of the corn cob and chopped the other stuff into bite sized pieces. I also threw in some leftover blanched green beens, cooked kamut wheat and freshly chopped parsley. With a few more squirts of vinaigrette and pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. I now have enough grilled veggie salad to last me until the end of the week. It’s great on it’s own. I have also used it as stuffing for egg dishes (omelettes, fritatta etc), thrown with some pasta, stuffing into a baked squash, stir-fried with rice, tossed into a soup or pilaf.
To make it a complete protein vegetarian dish from this salad just toss in some beans. I haven’t been able to find locally grown chickpeas or other beans for sale at the stores but Saltspring Seeds is selling chickpea seeds for home gardens. They also sell a great range of soybeans. Locally grown fresh soybeans, or edamame, can also be found. I found some a farmers markets over the summer. Saltspring Seeds website offers some great info and advice on growing these.
Back to dinner. Once I assembled the salad, I sliced the buffalo steak into thin slices. I do this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it makes the steak seem much more tender. And even so, buffalo is such a naturally lean meat, it benefits from being served this way. Secondly, it looks like a whole lot more meat than it really is. I’m all for eating flesh. I just don’t think we need a whole slab of beast on the plate. There are enviromental and simple food budget issues that have led me to this conclusion. I'd rather spend my money on buying smaller cuts of higher quality, more sustainable , ethicially raised beasts. Kevin, who is genetically predisposed to being a carnivore (or so he tells me) hasn’t noticed that I’ve whittled down the meat portions to a few ounces per day on average. Don’t you dare tell him! (I actually split the meat shown in the photo above between me and Kevin. The rest I used in a fast & dirty soup for lunch the next day).
As you can see, I cooked the buffalo rare/medium rare. I prefer my grilled beast this way, especially for buffalo. I find that once you get past the medium range the meat gets tough and dry and simply not good eats.
The light shavings that you see beside the meat is freshly grated wasabi from the Hazelmere Farm. It provided a good shot of horseradish heat to the rich buffalo steak. The potatoes really are that purple. So pretty. They’re a lighter purple inside but still, very purple. The flesh is fluffy and high in starch like a russet. It would certainly make some cool mashed potatoes.
BTW, Pipers Meats is taking orders for local turkeys for Thanksgiving. They’re coming from a farm just a couple miles away or from Gabriola Island. The turkeys will be coming in the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving. Of course, they also have a bunch of other locally grown beasts that you can roast up for the big holiday.
That’s it for now. I’m heading down to Ladysmith for the Happy Turkey Night at the Yellowpoint Cranberry farm tonight. I can’t wait! I’ve got to clean-out the freezer and make room for a load of cranberries.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Here's all the stuff you can do to be part of reality instead of feeding farts to your black hole of a couch and watching a fucked up version of it on TV.
Sept. 19th – Tuesday - Cedar Community Cinema shows documentary and alternative films offering food for thought. The films are shown on the first and third Tuesday of the month at the Cedar Heritage Centre, 1644 MacMillan Rd. Film and refreshments are free or by donation. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. Film starts at 7:00 p.m. For more info call 245-2467.
Tonight they’re screening "The End of Suburbia". This documentary explores the American Way of Life and its prospects as the planet approaches a critical era, as global demand for fossil fuels begins to outstrip supply. World Oil Peak and the inevitable decline of fossil fuels are upon us now, some scientists and policy makers argue in this documentary.
(I guess you’d still be watching reality on a screen but at least it isn’t frigging Slater thrusting his way through the waltz.)
Sept 20th - Wednesday -Yellow Point Cranberries holds its Happy Turkey Night. 2 Guest chefs and students from Ladysmith Secondary School cook up some yummy cranberry treats for you to sample. Tickets are $10 in advance at Yellow Point Cranberries or at Ladysmith Secondary School. Fresh cranberries will also be available for sale. Here’s a chance to fill up that last few corners of room in your freezer.
Sept. 21st –Thursday – Malaspina Climate Change Group is hosting Climate for Change Fall Fair at the Mal-U campus here in Nanaimo from 9-4. There will be guests speakers, music and lots of food for thought to chew on.
Sept 22nd - Friday – Nanaimo’s Farmer’s Market - From 10am to 2pm by the Bastion. There was actual produce at the last one I went to. Also free-ranged poultry, eggs, lots of crafts and even a local alpaca wool vendor .
Sept. 23rd- Saturday – Errington Farmer’s Market from 10am to 1pm at the Community Park next to Errington Hall.
Also the Gabriola Farmer's Market from 10 to noon. You could just walk onto the ferry and hoof it 10 mins up the hill.
If you haven't overloaded on farmers markets yet, throw the kids into the car and head down to the Duncan Farmers Market (10am to 2pm) . A few blocks over is Market in the Square, another farmers market which runs from 9am to 2pm.
Sept. 24th – Sunday – SOS Bikers Toy Run at the Coombs Rodeo Grounds - The poker run starts at 10am, the toy run starts at noon. Bring an unwrapped toy or cash donation.
Now quit bitching that there’s nothing to do around here and go out and do something!
Monday, September 18, 2006
Well, the Nanaimo 100 Mile Diet Challenge Week is over. So, how it did go for you? What did you do? What wonderful culinary discoveries did you make? Enquiring culinary minds want to know.
I’ve heard folks have been hosting 100 Mile Diet potlucks and parties. Some have pledged to try one new local item a week. There are even some people that are hard-core 100 milers that are aiming to eating only foods grown within a 100 mile range. That’s awesome to hear! Of course, this is just the beginning. Next, we're aiming for a 100 Mile Thanksgiving. I'll post more info on that once I get my crap together.
One of my biggest recent discoveries was the local booze industry. Vancouver Island has some pretty fine wines and ciders. Unfortunately, the government liquor stores don’t carry any Vancouver Island booze. Fortunately for us, there are a couple of beer and wine stores in Nanaimo that are spirited enough to carry them. Black Bear Liquor Store, North Gate Liquor, Wellington Hotel Beer & Wine, Wheatsheaf Beer & Wine, and the Jolly Miner store are some of the Nanaimo beer and wine stores that carry Vancouver Island booze.
Cherry Point vineyards in one of the highlights of out of Cowichan Valley. They put out a great table white called ‘Coastal White’ which is a blending of Vancouver Island grapes. Their Bete Noire (Black Beast) 2005 is my favorite wine discovery for the year. Deep and complex, a bit fruity to keep all the wine snobs away. The wine comes with a great back story that reaches back in history to 1552 in Hungary. Winemaster, Simon Spencer, is planning on putting our three volumes of this wine. Each volume will continue on with this mythical black beast of a wine. The vineyard is now out of the first volume of this wine and so grab whatever you can find at the wine stores. They will be releasing a new batch of wines within a month or two.
There’s no barley grown here on the island, so no locally grown beer. I’ve heard rumors of island barley experiments but nothing on tap yet. There is cider though. And good, cider. Not the candy apple cider that you used to get drunk on and throw up all over the backseat of your boyfriend’s Impala. Grown up cider made from undiluted apple juice from the wonderful apple orchard that surrounds the Merridale Cider House. Everything from a traditional dry cider to a champagne-style cider is made on the premises. My favorites so far are the Scrumpy Cider, a sharp, dry cider made from crab apples and no sugar, and the Merri Berri which is a sweeter cider mixed with local berries. The ciders have a clean, crisp taste and none of that murky aftertaste that other ciders that have sulphur dioxides or are made from concentrated juice have.
They also make an apple cider vinegar but are out of stock at the moment. Never fear, many local apple orchards are making an apple cider vinegar. I picked up a bottle of First Fruits Farm Apple Cider Vinegar a few weeks ago at the Duncan farmer’s market. At $3 for a 16oz bottle! It’s an organic, unpasteurized cider that needs to be diluted before using, it’s so strong. They also do a milder vinegar with Jonagold apples. BTW, farmer’s markets are brimming with local organic apples. Last I checked, they were going of a dollar a pound and not a single mealy Red Delicious in sight. Instead, there’s a variety of apples that you probably never have heard of before but should get to know better. The farmers selling them will also be able to tell you which ones are best for pies, sauces and just eating. Westwood Orchard on 170 Westwood Road off of Jinglepot Road has been suggested as a great local orchard. I think I may have to give them a visit some time this week.
Speaking of vinegar, I have had some folks asking me about locally grown balsamic vinegars. So far, I’ve only sussed out one locally grown balsamic vinegar, Venturi-Schulze Aceto Balsamico. This is true, traditional balsamic vinegar with no fruit concentrate, no caramel colouring, no blended wine vinegars. This is true artisan vinegar. The sort of thing that the Foodies swoon over. A little goes a long way. You can order up a bottle from their website. MacLean’s Foods also carries the vinegar.
Marley Farms is also making fruit vinegars. They make a blueberry and a kiwi vinegar from fruits grown on the island. I picked up a bottle of each from the North Gate Liquor Store on Metral, just off the Island Highway. The vineyard themselves are out of the vinegars, so pick a some up while you can. A new batch won’t be released for a few more months yet. The blueberry vinegar is light and makes a great vinaigrette. You could also use it to tang up a chicken or pork dish. I’ve drizzle a bit over baked fruit.
So last night, to celebrate the end of the Nanaimo 100 Mile Diet Challenge Week, Kevin and I had an intimate 100 Mile Feast. With veggies and fruit from the Nanoose Edibles produce box and local farms, South African boerwurst sausages from Quist Meat Market in Duncan, and Cherry Points Bete Noire we had quite the meal.
I made a South African version of my Fast and Dirty stew recipe that tastes like something that took hours to make. Here’s the fast & dirty instructions. You can use any fresh sausage. Piper’s Meats has a whole line of sausages made with locally grown grain-fed beasts.
Fast & Dirty Sausage Stew:
1 to 1 ½ lbs fresh sausage
1 onion – chopped into big chunks
2 cloves garlic –crushed and chopped coarsely
2 cups tomatoes chopped in half or quarters
2 carrots –peeled and cut into bite size chunks
2 sweet bell peppers – chopped into chunks
1 stalk of celery – chopped
1 cup of good red wine (I used Cherry Point’s Bete Noire but you can use whatever wine you’re planning to drink with the meal. You have to drink wine with this stew. It’s the rule. I don’t make the rules. That’s just how it is. If you’re going to be a snot-nosed rebel and not use wine, you could use cider or a good stock)
Fresh herbs – ripped/ chopped right before serving
Also – a few glugs of oil, salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350F. In a heavy oven-proof pot, heat up the oil and then brown the sausage on both sides over med-high heat.
Toss in all the veggies, pinch of salt and let the veggies get a bit of colour.
Dump in the wine (or whatever liquid you’re using) and scrape up all the caramelized goodness that’s stuck to the bottom of the pan. Throw the pot into the oven for 30-40 mins.
Since you’ve got the oven going anyways, you might as well wash up a bunch of potatoes (I used locally grown Peruvian Purple potatoes last night). Cut them into smaller pieces of needed. Toss them onto a small roasting pan with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt and slide those in beside the stew pot in the oven. You could just toss the potatoes into the stew pot too. They would help thicken up the stew. I just wanted nice crusty roasted potatoes last night so I did them separately.
I also threw in some unpeeled beets wrapped up in foil to roast beside the potatoes and stew. You might as well use the heat and roast up stuff for the next few days. Cooked beets keep a week in the fridge and can be used in so many ways. I’m thinking of making a fast and dirty borscht sometime this week.
Once the timer goes off and the stew is done, turn off the oven and pull out the beets to cool. I just leave everything else in until serving. I blanched up some local organic green beans for a side dish with the beets. Once the beets are cool enough to handle, you can peel them by simply slipping the skin right off. I do it under the tap of cold water to help the process and prevent my fingers from looking like Carrie’s after the school dance. I had some homemade pesto to accompany the side veggies.
A quick blueberry vinaigrette with Marley Farm’s blueberry vinegar and some oil would also go well with beets and green beans. One part vinegar to one part oil. Some dried herbs and a smidgen of Dijon mustard is all you need. Mix it up. Yep, fast and dirty.
Upon serving, cut/rip the fresh herbs into the stew and season according to taste. I used only basil and oregano since that’s all I have left in my garden.
For dessert, we had the last of a rhubarb and apple crumble that I had made a few nights back. Basically a bunch of rhubarb chopped into ½ inch slices and apples ( I used Brambley Seedlings and Gravensteins) chopped into 8ths. Altogether about 6 cups of fruit. A tablespoon of cornstarch and a 1/2 cup of local dark fir honey. You could also use regular sugar. I prefer organic cane sugar because adds a nice deep, caramel flavour. A heavy pinch of cinnamon, some ground ginger were also tossed into. Mix everything up. I chopped up a bunch of hazelnuts and tossed those as my crumble topping. Baked in a 350F oven for 30 mins. Drizzle more honey if you want it sweeter. Or top it with some local fruit syrup or jam. I popped a couple of blackberries I gathered.
So good. I’m having leftovers for lunch. I’m such a lucky kid!
Friday, September 15, 2006
If you haven't heard, there's a huge recall of all bagged spinach grown in the US due to contamination of E. coli. This is not the first time. E. coli contaminated pre-washed factory-farmed spinach has hospitalized and killed in the past.
The contaminated spinach has been traced back to one distributor, Natural Selection Foods based in California. However, it distributes spinach sold under dozens of labels. For a list, check out this article. Amongst this list is President Choice prebagged spinach.
Other brands and distributors could also carry contaminated spinach. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has advised consumers to throw out any prebagged spinach from the US.
So how much damage could one bad batch of spinach do? Well, the outbreak was originally reported yesterday in 8 states. By today, almost 100 cases have been reported in 20 states. So far, 29 victims have been hospitalized, 14 of them with kidney failure. One person has already died.
A huge portion of all the lettuce and spinach for the US and Canadian markets is grown in Salinas Valley, California. Eight of the 19 E. Coli O157:H7 lettuce or spinach related outbreaks since 1995 have originated from this area.
This is another example of how vulnerable out food supply is right now. Food security is more than just whether or not we can enough food transported over to this island. It’s a matter of whether we can trust and depend on that food to be safe for consumption. Relying on agri-corporations to supply our food is putting us at risk. One can only guess how a bacterium like E. coli which lives in the intestines of cows and other animals and is spread through contamination by shit ended up on spinach.
This is a disturbing reminder that we don’t know much about the food supply system as agri-corporate consumers. As long as we keep depending on these anonymous foreign factory farms for our food, we’re at their mercy. We have no say in how the US regulates their food. Don’t tell me that they have the FDA. The FDA is not looking out for the consumer’s best interest in the 21st century. It’s made up of a panel of execs and expects that have deep links to food corporations.
One solution is obvious. Buy local. Buy foods from farms where you can go and see how things are handled. Where you can ask the farmer questions. As a society, we can stop relying on some foreign country to supply the bulk for our food. Especially when we are blessed with great produce and farms right in our own backyard!
That's it for now.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Unfortunately, no Nanaimo restaurant has stepped up to the challenge. I sent out someone else to get restaurants for the challenge so I didn't get a chance to talk to the restaurateurs and chefs around here myself but from what I gather there's a bit of bridge building that definitely needs to happen between farms and restaurants around here.
Oh well. I won’t allow myself to get too discouraged, especially when I look around and see other nearby communities that are embracing their local farms. To the south of us is the Cowichan Valley and southern island which are filled with restaurants that celebrate the local bounty. I heard that there is a group in Metchosin who are doing a 10 Mile Diet. 10 freaking miles! More power to them! As I mentioned in a earlier post, the Comox Valley has a great farm-loving community and the bakeries there are at the forefront of a artisan baking revival. That whole community is thriving. Now we just have to get Nanaimo’s head out of it’s SUV behind to see that the Wal-Mart food culture is not the way to go.
Let's hope the enlightened spirit of folks like the Equinox Cafe and other local farm loving establishments in nearby communities spreads over Nanaimo soon. But until then, let's reward those that do support local farms and food producers with our patronage. I am going to hit the Equinox Cafe for their 100 Mile meal. I may even drag the Mr. with me and make it a date night. For those interested, here's their fabulous 100 Mile menu:
First course - Potato and Zuchinni bilini, caramelized onions with blackberry and chardonnay drizzle.
Second course -Highland beef NY steak topped with charred cherry tomato compote. Served with fresh local vegetables and roasted Russian Blue potatoes.
Third course -Crustless apple and plum meringue.
(wipe drool off of keyboard)
Speaking of dinner, we had the most awesome bison smokie and roasted veggie stew last night. I did a small roast-up yesterday admist my last round of canning. From my garden, I picked 3-4 lbs of cherry and small heirloom tomatoes, tossed them into a roasting pan with a sprinkle of kosher salt and threw them into an 300F oven for an hour and half. I also threw in a couple cloves of garlic. In another pan, I was roasting up a turban squash, some yellow and purple carrots and peppers, all local, of course. I pretty much ignored it until the timer rang.
I didn’t get my canning finished until about 9pm last night. I canned up a batch of pickled beets and a batch of spicy pickled carrot sticks. Tired and running on fumes, I gathered the following:
-2 bison smokies from Island Bison, roasted tomatoes, garlic, peppers & carrots, leftover roasted corn from a few nights back, a few handfuls of spinach and a couple shallots from my Nanoose Edibles produce box, glassful of Cherry Point’s Coastal Pinot Noir.
I basically chopped up the smokies & shallots and threw those into my wok over medium heat. Let the meat carmelize a bit and shallots soften then toss in the wine to deglaze. Cook that down a bit and then simple toss in everything else except the spinach. Let it all simmer a bit for 10 mins. You can add some water or broth if it’s not soupy enough for you. Then right before serving, I threw in the spinach and a few fresh cherry tomatoes. I tasted and seasoned it accordingly. I had slices of Natural Pasture’s wasabi cheese and cucumber from the produce box as a side. Man, was it ever good. The bison was mildly seasoned to allow it's flavour shine through. It's definitely leaner than typical smokies. A couple went a long way. The roasted tomatoes provided a rich flavour base to the soup. It was a great 1st fall soup of the season.
There was enough leftover for lunch today. I love leftovers. Yes, it tastes better the second day. Next time, I just might add the spinach to the bottom of the soup bowl and pour the soup ontop and let the heat of it wilt the spinach. The spinach in the leftover batch tasted fine but it looked a bit grey.
(Update: I tried the soup again tonight but without roasting any of the veggies and with a white wine instead of red. The verdict. ..It's bitching.)
I found out that I’ve got another 4 weeks on my produce box. I guess had enough forethought in the spring to sign up for a whole 16 week program. Thank goodness, this week’s box included a bunch of local apples including some famous Bramley Seedlings which are some of the best baking apples. You know what we’re gonna have for dessert tonight. There amongst all the greens, tomatoes and apples was a small bunch of the most delectable grapes. They were divine. Small fruit with only a seed at most in each. They were tender and sweet, with none of that weird bitter aftertaste from the skin. The texture was a bit different with an almost velvety smooth flesh.
For all those whining that the produce box makes it soooo much easier to follow a 100 Mile Diet, get off my back and get your lazy asses over to a farmers market. It's harvest time and there will be a ton of stuff available there.
Until then, happy eating!
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
(a tuscan heirloom tomato. Sweet and juicy. Great simply sliced with a drizzle of olive oil.)
Or at least that’s one of the monikers used last night at the Slow Food Tomato Feast. They like their Latin at the Slow Food clubhouse. Which makes sense since the latin term is the same if you’re in Nanaimo, BC or Marrakech, Morocco.
The tomato event was hosted by the delightful host with the most, Nick Versteeg, at the Laughing Geese in the Cowichan Valley. Nick is the producer with DV Cuisine, a company specializing in producing culinary and food documentaries and short features from around the world. We were all to bring a dish made with local tomatoes. The invitation ended with a dared to bring a dessert.
Well, you know me and dares. More about my dish later.
Other guests were mostly from the Cowichan Valley or the Victoria and surrounding area. There were farmers, educators, chefs and just folks who liked a good meal. The.Vancouver Island Slow Food convivium is led by the culinary jedi, Sinclair Philip of Sooke Harbour House and the talented culinary diva, Mara Jernigan, from nearby Fairburn Farms.. A convivium is Latin (of course) for a feast. In the case of the Slow Food movement, it is not only a feast for the belly, but a feast for the mind and soul. There is a deep sense of respect and appreciation for food that I found at this gathering that I haven’t experienced in a long time in the company of others.
Usually I’m the only one at the table who cares where the food came from, it’s lineage, it’s story. Though most of my dinner companions are nice enough to humor my culinary rhapsodizing, most couldn’t care less which farm the beef came from or what variety of apples are in the pie. At best, I find someone eager to learn, explore and celebrate food, if only for a meal. At worse, food is treated as background noise to television.
I hate that. Really.
As a friend once so eloquently put it, ‘I’d rather that you just not eat it, than to eat and not even taste it because you’re too busy watching another fucking ‘Friends’ rerun.’
Now, this Slow Food event is not a meeting of Foodies. They weren’t a bunch a gourmet snobs pooh-poohing what the peasants are eating. In many ways, these were the peasants. These are the folks who connected food from farm to fork. Throughout the evening I had conversations with guests about gathering of food and what simple feasts could be had right off the land. I had conversations about growing up at the farm and sharing family recipes and the connecting of food to our identity. The food they brought was simple, rustic fare highlighting the lovely tomato. There wasn’t a single speck of gold dust or contorted vegetable garnish in sight. There was no chastising for eating the 'wrong' food, merely reveling in real food.
Tomatoes took centre stage and they weren’t shy about it. The evening was a many chaptered story on local tomatoes. After a small taste of a wonderful roasted cherry tomato soup made by Don Genova, (yes, the host of Pacific Palate), we gathered outside on the cool evening patio, surrounded by whispering trees and the calls of chortling geese.
Derek, a local farmer and tomato expert from Pender Island, gave a small lecture on the growing tomatoes and the importance of seed saving, especially heirloom or heritage varieties. I learned that tomatoes, like grapes, take on different characteristics depending on the soil. I also caught bits and nibbles of the other’s culinary travels and tidbits of intricacies of European agricultural and culinary bureaucracy.
On a small table were a variety of heirloom tomatoes of various shapes, colours and sizes. Having tasted any of these garden beauties, one would wondered, why the heck are they only selling the insipid, tasteless ones at the supermarket?
Well, because they can. Because they can genetically modify perfect looking ones that produce a ton of cloned fruit and a ton of money. Of course, that means consumers end up with a bunch of ‘Barbie doll’ tomatoes.
Because the agro-corporations are betting that the public won’t put out the extra 25 cents a pound for properly grown, flavour-bursting heirloom varieties that haven’t had fish genes spliced into them.
They’re betting that the public are a herd of stupid, cheap, superficial consumers that have had their taste buds chemically burned off by years of fast food.
Oops, now how did that soapbox get there???
BTW, for anyone out there who’s growing tomatoes in their garden, you can stop watering them. Just let them ripen on their own. They need to be somewhere warmer. Either move those babies inside if they’re in containers or just pick the fruit and let it ripe on it’s own. Store them in a box in a dark, mildly humid room and let them naturally ripen. They’ll naturally release ethylene gas which stimulates ripening. Ripening this way isn’t quite as yummy as vine-ripened but it sure beats those
artificially gassed, factory-farmed bland-bombs you find at the supermarket.
(my golden boys. Sorry about the eBay quality of the photos).
The rest of the evening was spent eating tomatoes. Mara Jernigan made a simple and sublime yellow tomato sorbet topped with raw tuna. There was something so familiar, yet exciting about that taste combination. The light, sweetness of the yellow tomato sorbet cleansed the palate as it melted to make way for the rich tuna. Many brought salads to showcase the bright, fresh flavour of our local tomatoes. Married with local cheeses and herbs, these dishes were a fine example of simple, rustic fare at it’s best. Others brought simple slow roasted dishes. One young lady brought a gorgeous slow-roasted Moroccan tomato dish that had such an intense flavour, it was like having the Mediterranean sun in my mouth. Another guest had brought a slow roasted tomato topped with pesto.
Joyce, a vivacious and absolutely delicious creature from Victoria, brought the only other dessert: A cheesecake topped with a tomato, ginger and salal berry sauce. The ginger did a great job adding a bit of zing to highlight the sweetness of the tomatoes. I could totally see the sauce dribbled over vanilla gelato or topping for crepes.
Blessed with bounty of tomatoes, I decided I could sacrifice some for a green tomato dessert. After a few failed experiments, I ended up with a green tomato dish done in three variations. I started with a basic olive oil cookie recipe.
For the first variation, I did a biscotti with local hazelnuts and green tomato marmalade filling. The second variation, I used the same cookie dough recipe and made jam cookies with a dollop of Little Qualicum’s fromage frais and a dollop of green tomato marmalade in the middle. The third variation, I made a green tomato crumble with the plain olive oil cookies lining the dish and a green tomato filling which was basically chopped green tomatoes, lemon zest and organic cane sugar cooked for a 10 mins over medium heat, dumped in the cookie lined dish and topped with chopped local hazelnuts and crumble mix. Bake for 30 mins at 350F. I wouldn’t have posted a picture of that but it’s all gone ;)
One lady remarked that the crumble tasted like something that would come from a farm. From this group, I take that as a huge compliment.
Despite the bounty of food laid out for us, this was not the Gluttony Bowl. We were given modest lunch size plates that were just big enough so we could all have a taste of everything. There was no heaping of food onto one’s plate, no shovelling of food into one’s mouth. All around, people savoured and relished and appreciated the bounty bite by bite. We chatted and shared food stories.
Time and time again, I heard folks remark, ‘We are so lucky.’
Yes, we certainly are.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Happy 100 Mile Diet Challenge Week!
It’s the start of the Nanaimo 100 Mile Diet Challenge week, my lovelies. I’m so looking forward to this week of eating and exploring. This morning I had a breakfast of ripe Bartlett pears, a Paula Rose apple from Gab. Island and a last small wedge of Hilary’s Cheeseworks’ Red Dawn cheese. Luckily, I’m heading down to the Cowichan Valley for a Slow Food Tomato Feast tomorrow so I’ll swing by Hilary’s Cheeseworks in Cowichan Bay and pick up some more of that yummy cheese.
On Friday, I swung by the Nanaimo Farmer’s market and noticed a few more actual farm stands admist all the arts and crafts vendors. Now, I love a hand-carved wooden duck as much as the next person, but I’ve been a bit disappointed with the Nanaimo market in the past due its lack of farm produce. Along with the smattering of stands selling veggies and fruit, was Cedar Valley Poultry farm with ethically raised poultry eggs and Ken from Gabriola Gourmet Garlic (he’s everywhere or maybe he’s cloned himself with a garlic-powered genetic replicator) . There was even a vendor selling alpaca yarn, a fresh pasta stand, and a bunch of other food vendors that I hadn’t seen earlier in the season. Let’s hope this fresh produce trend continues at the Nanaimo Farmers Market. It sure makes eating on the 100 Mile Diet a heck of a lot easier.
I picked up a bunch of organic peppers that were going for cheaper than what regular non-local peppers are going for in the store. I also grabbed some zucchinis, a butternut squash, onions and swiss chard. Again, all of it local, mostly organic and around the same price as grocery store prices. In fact, some of it was cheaper. I paid with loose change in my pocket and headed home with bags of farm fresh goodness.
On Saturday, I did a mini-road trip up island to the Comox valley for the Comox Valley Farmer’s Market in Courtney. What a great farming community and what a great market! It was all pretty much farm produce and meats. There were a few bakers and beauty and health vendors but mostly farm stuff. Which is the way it ought to be, not a glorified craft fair. Natural Pastures cheese was also there and a honey vendor. There was even an array wild, dried mushrooms, seaweed and stinging nettle at the Wild Products Network booth. Clean air, live music, grass under my feet, two coffee kiosks and no clerks that are going to give me vacant looks when I ask them how the chickens were raised or what variety of tomatoes that have in stock. This is my kind of grocery store!
Upon leaving Nanaimo, storm clouds were grumping above and I was dressed for a sloppy morning of marketing. By the time I got out to the field across from Vanier School where the market is held, the sun was out, my rain jacket came off and I was armed with a backpack that needed filling up.
The market is a great array of farm produce from apples to wasabi. Yes, fresh wasabi and other organic asian greens like bok choy and gai lan were found at the Hazelmere farm stand. Lijen & Sherlene Hua also sell wonton and other Chinese dumplings, as well as pickles and kimchi. The couple were excited to hear about Nanaimo 100 Mile Diet campaign and were happy to chat about their experience as organic farmers. They, like most farmers, are finding it hard to get good help and hold onto it. They have had volunteers from the WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farm) program in the past but not this year. WWOOF links up volunteers to organic farms that are willing to host them in exchange for help around the farm. Before you go hoofing abroad to help some organic farm in Slovenia, you may want to check out if any local farms wouldn’t mind a helping hand or two.
I picked up a small root of wasabi from them and a bunch of tips and recipe ideas. That plug of green play-do they stick on the corner of your sushi isn’t wasabi. They call it wasabi but usually it’s plain horseradish powder (if you’re lucky) mixed with mustard powder and green food colouring. Real wasabi has a crisp, clean taste upfront with a floral note behind it and then zings you with the sharp horseradish heat. The root and the leaves can be used. Grate only what you need and keep the root on your fridge wrapped in a wet paper towel. It should fine keep for a few weeks that way.
Along with the many booths of local veggies and fruits, the market is a carnivore’s buffet of your typical farm flesh, as well as more exotic meats like bison, wild boar and venison. Island Bison booth had a line-up of eager carnivores. I picked up a couple pounds of stewing meat and a pound of smokies there. The bison are raised ethically with no hormones, no antibiotics, and are grass fed. Island Bison also takes online orders and will deliver.
The Twin Peaks Game Farm stand sells wild boar and fallow venison in every cut imaginable. What really caught my eye was that Andrew Androsoff, who runs the stand, had real skulls and bone specimens of the animals on his table. What a great, simple display of the connection between the animal and the end product. This is another reminder that this is food sold by folks who authentically know their products, who recognize and acknowledge the link between what’s at the farm and what ends up on your fork. An antithesis to the shrink-wrapped, sanitized, factory flesh that shows up in grocery stores that is completely devoid of any connection to the animal that it came from. Could you imagine a cow skull hanging over the meat department at your local corporate supermarket? You’d have McKids freaking out everywhere. There wouldn’t be enough Ritalin to calm them down!
I also met Matthew Nikkel from Tannadice Farms which sells Angus beef, pork and poultry. All their animals are raised with no-hormone, no-antibiotic and ethical practices. Their cattle are fed grass and corn grown on the farm, making them a true 100 mile diet beef. Matthew, a fella with enough energy and enthusiasm to power a Midwest cheerleading squad, also sits on the farmers market board and offered 100 Mile Diet Nanaimo a free booth at the market. I might have to take him up on his offer. As busy as his stand was, he was happy to chat for a few minutes and pointed out a few other farmers I should talk to, as well.
Before leaving the market with my backpack filled with fresh produce and a several frozen pounds of a menagerie of animals, I swung by the Human Eats Fresh Foods which sells a line of salsas, largely made with local produce. The stand was run by a saucy young woman named Rosa.
It so happened that Courtney was hosting their ‘Local Colours’ festival, which highlights the local arts and culture. This included a block of vendors from local restaurants, resorts, bakeries and other food establishments. Fanny Bay Oysters which sells locally harvested oysters fresh and smoked, and other seafoods was there. I also met Dave from Cumberland Village Bakery who uses a range of local products from apples to garlic to chicken in their chicken sausage rolls in his baked goods. His grains are coming in from an organic farm in Saskatchewan. He’s baking a range of naturally leavened multigrain, sprouted grain and rye breads and he’s keeping the famous Cumberland Auchterlonie donuts tradition alive. Krispy Kreme need not apply. Folks around here like some character in their doughnuts. The whole Comox Valley seems to be going through an artisan baking revival. Wild Flour Bakery is even offering a rye bread that gets a 100 Mile Diet thumbs up with rye grown up the highway at Emerald Acres Farm at Oyster River. Let’s hope this baking renaissance finds it’s way to Nanaimo.
I also found Sunshine Organics , a local organic grocery delivery company. The company has locations in Comox Valley, Powell River and Edmonton. They try to bring in local produce whenever they can and offer a variety of produce box sizes. Another great tool for 100 milers in the Comox Valley.
Speaking of produce boxes, my subscription to Nanoose Edibles is coming to an end for this season. I have an option of adding another 4 weeks of service. However, some folks (you know who you are) are griping that the weekly produce box makes it soooo easy for me to stick to the 100 Mile Diet and that they don’t have to time or money or both to find good, local organic produce on their own. So to show them, I’m taking my $30 a week from the produce box and using that to buy what I normally get through the box elsewhere. With more fresh produce showing up at the Nanaimo Farmer’s market and other farmers markets and the plethora of farms in the region, I’m not too worried.
Before leaving Courtney, I stopped by Hot Chocolates and grabbed a strawberry gelato made with local strawberries. What a great way to enjoy the last berries of the season. The flavour was a sublime and simple blending of ripe strawberries and cream. The gelato was a bit airy for me to consider it a gelato. (Sorry, I’m a totally gelato snob. Blame it on my years of living in Vancouver and having some of the best gelato in North American.) Nevertheless, it was a great treat to end my culinary tour of the Comox Valley. I have a feeling there may be a part two to this tour very soon.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
It's the middle of November in that picture. You're just going to have to take my word for it.
So I did a bit of postering around Downtown Nanaimo in preparation for the upcoming 100 Mile Diet Challenge Week. I ran into a friend who told me about an organic chicken and turkey farmer on Jinglepot Road with a very interesting story to tell. I'm thinking the next challenge for me will have to be a 100 Mile Diet Thanksgiving!
I'm still flying solo at the dinner table. DH will be back tomorrow. I like cooking for myself. It's a chance to experiment even more so than I usually do. To play with different texture and flavours that I normally wouldn't try if I was cooking for others. It's one thing if I end up eating toast for dinner because my radish and cranberry soup experiment didn't quite work out, it's another thing to make others do so.
However, it was past 9pm when I realized that I was hungry. I realized that I was hungry because I hadn't eaten dinner. I was also tired and not up to playing Iron Chef so figured I'd do a kitchen sink fritatta. Basically bits and pieces of stuff thrown into a fritatta. It's my way of doing some fridge housecleaning. I way of getting rid of leftovers gathering in random bowls and containers and bits of fresh ingredients that aren't enough to make something one their own. In a way it is a form of experimenting since often the most unlikely combinations end up together. I once did a kitchen sink fritatta with green beans in fermented black bean sauce, grilled chorizo sausage, greek salad and hummous that was surprisingly good. Unfortunately, I've never had that combination of leftovers since.
Here's what I had for leftovers: roasted corn (from dinner last night), small chunk of steak already cooked that I've been having as my main meat this week, blanched green beans, boiled beets. And I had some fresh bits: small bunch of swiss chard, bits of Hilary's Red Dawn cheese, red onion and basil. Yes, all of it grown within 100 miles.
So I sauted up the onion, then threw in the roasted corn, the chard, and the last of the steak (sliced thinly). As those ingredients heated up on medium-high heat, I beated a couple of local free-range eggs with some of the basil and a bit of water. To cut basil quickly, just stack the leaves, fold over lengthwise and cut directly into the bowl. The egg mixture went into the pan. Once almost completely cooked, I grated the rest of the Red Dawn cheese over the top of the eggs and pop it right under a waiting hot broiler until the cheese caramelized. I mixed the beets and beans together with a dash of balsamic vinegar and some dijon mustard for a salad.
It was great. The sweet roasted corn played nice counterpoint to the 'greeness' of the chard. The steak offered some interesting texture and flavour. I think cutting it thin was the key. Thick slices would have muddied up the texture. The Red Dawn cheese worked really well. It's mild enough that it doesn't dominate but it still has a presence. It helped bring out the sweetness of the corn.
I was going to take a picture but I was too hungry :P
Now I gotta go hunt for dessert.
So I'm a genius. Really. At least that's how I feel whenever a food experiment of mine actually works.
Last night I decided I needed clear out some precious fridge real estate and started with that bucket of damson plums I picked up from Nanoose Edibles. I decided to make jam. But, of course, I couldn't just make regular, good ole, yummy damson plum jam. Nooooo. That would be too easy. Instead, I made Damson Plum White Wine jam. Not just any white wine, but Cherry Point's Coastal White 2004 which is kinda like a Vancouver Island twist on a Gewurztraminer.
Here's the basic recipe:
4 cups of pitted and finely chopped damson plums (you can try other plums if you want)
1 cup of Cherry Point Coastal White wine
1/2 teaspoon of veg. oil or butter (to prevent foaming)
1 package of low/no sugar pectin
2 1/2 cups of sugar
1- Mix the plum,wine and oil.
2- Whisk in pectin.
3- Bring to boil
4- Take it off the heat and dump in sugar and mix well.
5- Bring it back up to a hard boil for 3 mins.
6- Pour into sterilized canning jars. Pop on lids.
7- Process jars for 10-15 mins.
It's a beautiful jewel of a jam. The wine added a depth and light floral tones that regular old juice wouldn't have. While the jars were taking their bath, I sopped up the remaining jam in the pot with a chunk of homemade semolina bread, plopped on some Little Qualicum's fromage frais on top and enjoyed my ruby treat with the last of the wine.
In fact, it truly was the last of that wine since Cherry Point has sold out of the Coastal White at their vineyard. Oh well, all the more reason to try what elses this Cowichan Valley vineyard has to offer.