Monday, September 11, 2006

Let the Challenge Begin!

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.

Happy Eating!


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