Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pining for Ice

I managed to make the trip across the Strait and got home Tuesday night. Other than going to the Rolling Stones concert, I didn’t really do much other than shovel snow and cook for my family. I did manage to get a bunch of knitting done. I missed my Dear Husband and my Dear Home. However, my parent’s home has heated floors which are a nice first thing on a snowy morning.

During my visit to Vancouver, I managed to score a couple of locally grown treasures:

The persimmon is from my mom’s tree. So far, the tree has only produced a half a dozen fruits but I’m hoping that it will be more productive in the coming seasons.

The alien fruit with the 5 o’clock shadow is a prickly chayote. It’s from a friend’s grandma’s garden. Supposedly they’re pretty easy to grow around here. I might have to put them on next year’s garden list.

Chayotes are in the same family as melons, cucumbers and squashes. It has a very mild green taste like a cucumber but a bit more denser flesh like a winter squash. You can pretty much do anything with a chayote from eating it raw to braising to stir-frying to pickling and pretty much anything in between.

Chayotes are used all over the world and especially in Latin American and Asian cuisines. Can’t wait to experiment with my stash of chayote. I'll keep you posted

I’ve been puttering about and enjoying the cold and snow. DH and I have been wandering about the house in our down jackets and wooly cozies and gleefully celebrating this cold snap.

(our front porch)

(the garden shanty is still up)

Unfortunately, it’s all about to change. It’s going to be a balmy 5C here today. DH and I selfishly want the cold arctic outflow winds to stay. The snow is nice too. I know, I know. There are folks who are snowbound, other's are without power and it's rush hour is a mess. Still we are hoping that another arctic outflow will come and bomb us again with nice freezing temperatures so we can go ice-climbing. It’s been so long since we’ve had a good ice season. I would very much like to climb on something that isn’t melting as I ascend. As fun as it was last year, I certainly would prefer scaling waterfalls that weren’t still running.

(Hey,that's me! This is from last year on Mt. Arrowsmith. I'm leading up on ice smear that barely was. We returned the following day to play some more but the ice had decayed too much to safely climb it.)

(A half frozen waterwall just outside of Port Alberni. Yippee!!!!)

(That's me again leading up that half frozen waterfall. The water is still gushing underneath all that ice. Farther up, the ice had opened and I had to stick to the sides for some mixed climbing. So much fun!)

We spent last night wat
ching both Ice Ages movies back to back as part of our ice inducing rituals. Here I am all bundled up and knitting away while watching movies.

Speaking of knitting, here’s the fingerless mitts off the needles and onto my hands:

For those wondering, it’s just a tube with a crotcheted thumb. I used Patton sock yarn, probably discontinued since it was in the discount bin. Any sock yarn will do. I knitted them on circular needles. You could use double points or circulars or regular needles. I knitted it as a flat piece but you could knit it up as a tube on DPs and simply open up the tube for a couple of inches for you thumb.

I knit, seam and make the thumb with one piece of unbroken yarn, It keeps the number of ends that need to be woven in to a minimum.

Fast & Dirty fingerless mitt instructions:

- 3.5 mm needles

Cast on 36 stitches (I knit fairly loose)

RS - Knit up K4, P2 ribbing. You can do it as a simple ribbing or do something funky cable ribbing. Keep in mind that some of the cable ribbing doesn’t have the same amount of elasticity.

WS –Knit what appears in the row below

Knit until it’s long enough for you. Keep in mind that it will stretch in width and shrink in length once you put it on. It will look like it won’t stretch wide enough to cover the circumference of your hand. You can simply knit up a couple inches, cast/off, seam it quickly and try it one to double check your gauge. Once you’ve figured out your numbers, keep it for future mitt projects.

Crochet the side edges together to make a tube. When you get to where the thumb ought to be, slip on the mitt and mark off how much space you need to leave for the thumb hole.

Continue crocheting on only ONE side of where the thumb ought to be. In other words, the tube will not be closed up for where the thumbhole ought to be. Continue crocheting both sides together once you get past the thumbhole. Once you get to the top of the mitt, crocheted back down to the thumbhole.

Crochet round and round and round the thumbhole. Decrease where it’s needed. Yes, you probably will need to try on the mitt to see how much you need to decrease. Again, once you figure out your numbers for this, write it down so you can use it again. I tend to crochet a few rows then decrease 2 stitches each row after that. Keep in mind that there won’t be much stretch in the crotched stitches so you don’t want to have the thumb piece too tight.

Bind off and weave in your ends.

I was able to get a pair of mitts out of one 50gr ball of wool sock yarn and still have some leftover. A grand total of $4 for a pair of custom-made toasty mitts.

I'm outta here to play in the snow before it all melts away.



Monday, November 27, 2006

Another reason why my husband ROCKS!!!!

As I mentioned, I'm stranded away from home. There was a freak twist of fate, oppurtunity knocked and I ended up going to the Rolling Stones concert in Vancouver this weekend. Mick and the crew were awesome and put on a spectacle of a show. I danced my tushie off with a crowd of drunk, white baby boomers and a smaller crowd of pot-infused 20-somethings. Keith was in fine altered form. Mick was larger than life in so many ways.

But the Stones don't hold a candle to my DH.
This is one of the reasons why:

I was worried about my winter veggie garden since I haven't had time to put up a cold frame yet. In my absence, he rigged up a super-jedi garden shanty!!! He sent me photo to reassure me that the veggies were now sheltered.

Hopefully the shelter will be enough help insulate the veggies for the next couple of days.


Snow Day!!!!

It's snowing! It's snowing! It's snowing! It's snowing! It's snowing!
Snowmen have been cropping up everywhere. Not those pitiful gravel & grass encrusted snowmen that rusty coast children build when the usual pathetic 2 centimetres of snow falls but big, robust, locally-fed snow white snowmen.

I'm in Vancouver. Long story but I'm making the best of it. I'm waiting for the roads to get better before make the trek to the ferries for my journey back home.

I'm doing my best to not worry about winter veggie garden. I don't have a cold frame over the plants. Hopefully a covering of heavy-duty plastic and a pep rally will keep them going through this weather.

Well, I'm outta here to play in the snow.
Everyone drive and walk carefully out there.
Keep warm and if you have some spare socks, toques, blankets and other warm clothes, I'm sure the local shelter and outreach services could find a good home for them.


Friday, November 24, 2006

A Mindful Community of Food

According to a CBC story, in 2005 Canadian farmers made their smallest real profits since 2003 as they came off two years or more of drought and mad-cow-related trade restrictions.

After attending the Provincial government's Agricultural Planning Committee public meeting this past Tuesday, this report comes as no surprise to me. It was standing room only and the 2 hours alotted for the meeting was barely enough time to scratch the surface. Considering the changes in regulations, the cuts in government funding and the tape-looped lip service we're getting the from Gordo and his crew, we've got one hell of a fight if we want to maintain a local farm industry.

Looking around the room, I saw the farmers that have provided a majority of my food for these past few years. I was a bit saddened and very frustrated that they had to fight this hard in order to continue providing food for the community. It scares me that my generation may be the last that will have the choice of a locally-grown diet. Considering the rate that farms are closing, the dumping of cheap products from overseas growers, cookie-cutter government policies and the consumer's expectations for cheaper and cheaper food, this is not inconceivable.

We're so enamored with the cult of the global economy that we've forgotten the community economy. There is a small but growing movement that is rising against this. More books about the problems of corporate farms, food conglomerates and the failure of the modern food system to provide a proper diet are showing up on the shelves. From obesity to junk food funding school programs to GMO food technology, modern food issues are showing up in the news. We don't need another freaking government report to tell us what is wrong. We know what is wrong. We've know it for a very long time.

After years of activism, I have come to the conclusion that my role as a consumer is one of the most powerful political tools I have. Forget the placards and the rally cries, I'm done with those for now. I will subvert the system one meal at a time.

Sometimes it actually works ;)

Last night, I had some friends over for dinner. The dinner doubled as a naan and curry cooking lesson for my friend Karin. It was also a much needed boost for me and reminder that my personal 100 Mile Diet campaign is making small ripples beyond my own dinner table.

Unfortunately, there are still those around me that scoff at my 100 mile diet ideas. My only recourse is to only invite dinner guests that respect my ideas or at least don't openly belittle my requests for locally-grown food contributions. Either that or introduce them to my Chinese cleaver. Just kidding. Well kinda...

Luckily, many of my friends have embraced the local food lifestyle and revel in what their local farms have to offer. I certainly don't lack for like-minded guests to invite over for a hearty locally-grown meal and are happy to bring their favorite local cheese and wines to share. A few of us have formed a food buying club. We're splitting a lamb order from a local farmer and an order from Island Bison in Campbell River. Check out the Fall Resource Guide in the Nanaimo 100 Mile Diet Challenge website for farmers and vendors that are selling products through the fall and winter.

I get oodles of emails from Australia to England to California from friends sharing what they're discovering in their local farms. I have a whole posse of budding chef friends in Vancouver who are having weekly 100 mile diet potlucks and have bestowed moi with an open invitation. I'm such a lucky kid!

By sharing and actively supporting each other's 100 mile diet journey, we are consciously making a choice to be the change we want to see in this world. We are all actively choosing to be mindful participants in our community of food.

It's been fun and soulwarming to share this with folks who are as passionate about life, the enviroment and food as I am. I am very blessed.

Thanks to all the farmers on this island for putting in the endless hours, hard work and risking so much so that I can still have the choice to buy locally grown foods.

To everyone is who is also mindfully choosing locally-grown foods and products, thank you for being part of this community of food.

Happy Eating!


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Season of the Lost Mitt

And so it begins, another season of the lost mitt.

It started late this year. Usually, the first one is lost by Hallowe’en. But it has been warm and wet and I didn’t pull them out until these past few weeks.

I usually go through 3 to 4 pairs a season. Let me clarify that. I knit 3 to 4 pairs and proceed to lose them throughout the fall and winter. Actually, I only lose one of each pair. Like socks. They are a related species, you know. They branched off at the beginning of the Lanolinian Epoch.

My mitts are all basically the same pattern. A tube with a crocheted thumb. All fingerless so I can easily knit, type and run my fingers through my beloved’s hair. It’s cold and drafty in this old house, especially in the mornings. I also just love the look of them.

I used to make them with fine yarns. I once knitted a gorgeous pair of dark teal fingerless mitts that rose past my elbows made from Garn Studio’s Alpaca yarn. Leaf and vine detailing going all the way up the forearm and even a bit of beading at the cuff. I wore them once before I lost one. I’m not ashamed to admit, tears were shed.

I’ve learned to make them out of more reasonably priced yarn. By that, I mean yarn that doesn’t leave me eating turnips all week. I’ve also learned that it’s prudent to make them out the superwash wool. I swear they practically jump into the laundry hamper when I’m not looking.

I lost this first one of the season, a dark grey merino wool mitt in a lovely twisted rib and diamond pattern, somewhere between the video store and the liquor store. Bullets of shiver-inducing rain were pouring from the sky or else I would have looked for it. Poor thing, it probably melted into the grey of the pavement, pummeled to death by the rain.

Let’s have a moment of silence for that brave little mitt that sacrificed itself, heralding in a new season of lost mitts.

Its mate is still on the counter. Waiting, hoping that to be reunited again with its partner. Its kinda sad, I don’t have the heart to tell it that it’s hopeless. Its trying to be strong and gave me a nasty look when I began casting on stitches for a new pair last night. I can’t help it. My hands are cold.

I’m making this one out of sock yarn that I found in the discount bin. I reason that the strength of the sock yarn will prevent the wear and tear. It’s just wishful thinking on my part that they would ever stick around that long to get worn out.

I'm using a simple ribbed pattern for the palm and wrist part and to maybe turn those ribs into cabling as it carries up the forearm.

A sane person would simply replace the missing mitt. A sane person would stock up on one yarn and dedicate that for mitts alone. A sane person wouldn’t be knitting the mitt equivalent of aran sweater. A sane person would get a heater.

Oh right, I forgot...sane people don’t knit.

Onto some food stuff…

My DH and I play this little game where I stealthily see how little flesh I can get away with serving him. His job is to detect when I have begun this meat rationing. I have found that if go completely meatless, he notices it within two meals and starts grumbling about how he’s an Inuit and therefore genetically predisposed to being a carnivore and my vegetarian tendencies will be the death of him.

I actually like flesh. I just think we as a society eat too much of it. I'd rather spend my money on smaller amounts of locally grown, ethically raised, environmentally sustainable, higher quality flesh than spending the same amount on buying a huge amount of factory farmed, doped-up Walmart flesh from who knows where. It’s also way better eats. I swear, the reason why so many beasts like frog to snake to rats are often touted as tasting like chicken is because we're nation that has no freaking idea what a real chicken is supposed to taste like.

I just use less but I get more out of it. Most meals only have a couple of ounces of meat but it’s good, tasty local meat that actually tastes like something that used to roam and live well. By using better quality meats, I can use less of it and DH doesn’t feel like he’s lacking for protein because he actually taste the meaty goodness.

But every now and then, even I want a steak. A good, solid, meaty steak bursting with unami bliss. Last night was one of those nights.

Here’s what we had for dinner last night:

Moose steak in a shitake mushroom- red wine sauce with roasted potatoes and squash.

The steaks where gifted to us from Kev’ family. I pan-fried them for 4 mins on each side over medium-high heat, along with some sliced fresh local shitake mushrooms. I deglazed the pan with a generous glass of Blue Grouse Gamay Noir, dumped in some already roasted up onions and red peppers and some sage from the garden. Scraped up all the lovely moose bits from the bottom of the pan and let it all reduce down to a third. Popped in a knob of good Island farm’s butter. A good pinch of salt, a couple grinds of pepper and it was done.

The potatoes and squash were from this weeks roast up. I simply popped them into the oven at 350F while I was cooking up the steaks. They were dressed in nothing more than a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, salt and vinegar. Simple, simple, simple.

The moose was just the shot of protein I was craving. It had the good, clean meaty taste of an animal that roamed the land. The earthiness of the shitake mushrooms and the full-bodied red wine sauce provided just enough complexity. Kev didn't talk throughout dinner except to grunt 'Meat Good' every now and then.

I actually couldn’t eat up all of my steak and saved half of it for lunch today. I’m thinking of tossing it in some udon miso soup with some roasted veggies. It certainly is noodle in soup weather today.

BTW, the Cedar and Yellow Point Annual Country Christmas Tour begins today. It’s a self-guided tour through the many artisans and farms in the Cedar – Yellow Point area. Kiwi Cove lodge is offering a special kiwi inspired lunch and Yellow Point Cranberries is offering tastings of it’s many cranberry products. Hazelwood Herb Farm, Malva Herb Garden and Fiddick’s Farm is also on the tour. This event runs from the 23rd to 26th. Check it out!

Happy Turkey Eating Day to everyone in the US.



Monday, November 20, 2006

Weekend whirlwind

Another wild and burly weekend. I bopped about from craft fair to beachcombing (you never know what these storms will wash up onto the shore) to my back garden to some knitting to Gabriola Island with some friends for more craft fairs, beachcombing and a couple of awesome nurseries where I saw the most gorgeous eucalyptus tree (koala not included) and then back home for more knitting.

It was also the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau . Since BN is not a local wine, I decided that for every bottle of BN consumed, we would have to consume a bottle of local wine. I chose Blue Grouse’s Gamay Noir since it uses the gamay grape that the BN are made from. As much fun as the BN is, I blissed out on the summery tones of the Blue Grouse wine. Build on the fertile slopes of the Cowichan Valley, Blue Grouse vineyards puts out some of my favorite wines. Their Black Muscat is the perfect intense red wine to go with your favorite dark organic chocolate. Thanks to its great location and soil, the vineyard doesn’t use fertilization or irrigation.

We celebrated wine, local and not so local, with a couple of intimate dinners and a couple of not-so-intimate dinners. Here’s what we had for one of our dinners:

Local buffalo sausage, caramelized onions, roasted veggies and a butternut squash gratin. Pretty much everything was grown locally from the sausages to the veggies to the cheese in the squash. The caramelized onions are your basic recipe of sliced onions brown in butter and braised slowly. I used a glass of Blue Grouse wine to deglaze and braise the onions. Yep, it was divine.

The veggies included local purple & golden carrots and Saanich potatoes tossed in EVOO and dumped into roasting pan. The sausages were simply browned and then tossed on top of the veggies to finish cooking. The butternut squash gratin was leftover roasted squash dumped into a pan with some EVOO, Little Qualicum’s raclette cheese and a couple of cloves of roasted garlic. I drizzled some balsamic vinegar over it once it was done.

Everything roasted away in the oven at 350F for about a 40 mins while Kevin and I watched Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire and drank too much BN and Blue Grouse’s Gamay Noir.

Here’s what we had the following morning to quietly move us into the day:

Blueberry pancakes with blueberry/blackberry syrup and scrambled eggs. I finally have started dipping into my hoard of frozen blueberries picked from a local u-pick this past summer. A sweet, summery visitor to our breakfast table, along with very egg-elicious scrambled eggs courtesy of Cedar Valley Poultry. This picture is Kevin before he stuffs that huge chunk of egg into his gullet.

I also roasted up a batch of local hazelnuts. These are from Foote’s Hazelnut farm in Chemainus.

They have a stand open on their hazelnut farm. Just go along the Island Highway to the big yellow and green Antique barn building on Henry Rd and turn in. Follow Henry along it’s mellow, winding limb for a couple of kilometers until you get to the green metal gate. Push the button for an ‘Open Sesame’ (or Open Hazelnut in this case), drive on through the orchard. You’re aiming for the big, brown house in the back. The hazelnuts are by the front door and it pretty much runs on the honor system.

I’ve found Foote’s hazelnuts also at the Quist meat market in Duncan. Nanoose Edibles also carries local hazelnuts.

To roast, simply dump the nuts onto a baking sheet in a single layer and toss into a 350F oven. After 10 mins, give the pan a shake and return it to the oven for another 5 or so minutes. Let the hazelnuts cool and then crack away!

They can be kept unroasted and in their shell for a few months in paper or mesh bags on the shelf or a couple years in a sealed plastic baggie in the freezer. Considering that hazelnuts in the stores are going for $1.50 to $2 for a 100 grams, buying them this way is a great deal. Especially since nuts go rancid once shelled, these are also tastier.

Warning: Ramblings about knitting ahead!!!

I’ve started on another sweater. I know I just finished one but I’m waiting for my lovely mum-in-law to drop off yarn for her sweater so until then, I’m working on this:

It’s the sleeve for what I’ve named the Midsummer’s Nights Dream sweater. I’ve been wanting to do a MsND sweater for ages. Here's the yarn I'm using:

The colouring is going to make it more of a Tri-seasonal Night’s Dream sweater but I can live with that.

My design ideas have taken several turns from a lace weight cardigan with bell sleeves (what the heck was I thinking? I can barely knit a lace weight dishcloth) to a cape and vest combo to an updated version of EZ’s Moebius sweater. Over the summer, I picked up a batch of Phildar Auteil yarn that struck me as very MsND sweaterish and decided to let the yarn tell me what it wanted to be. The yarn was uncooperative all summer long and wouldn’t confess it’s innermost desires. So I threw it into the darkest corner of my yarn stash and hoped imprisonment would loosen up its tongue.

While finishing up my kimono shrug, I heard whispers and sly riddles coming from that corner of the yarn stash. Or maybe it was the end-of-the-project itch. When you’re near the end of something and part of you is delighted that it’s finally going to be finished but the rest of you is wondering ‘What will I knit next?’

Finally the yarn betrayed its intent and I began doodling out scratchings and scribbles. So far I have a lot of scratches and scribbles in my knitting journal. I still have no idea what the body of this is going to look like. I’m hoping a couple glasses of Cherry Point’s Bete Noire will give me the inspiration I need when I get to that point.

I’ve usurped this construction idea from Simple design of tubes and there’s no seams! Yippee!

Of course, leave it to me to completely morph a simple and brilliant design into a monster of mayhem. As you can tell from the above picture, I’m not working the sleeves in a tube. I’ve decided I want the sleeves to decrease down into a leaf point at the wrists. Yes, a leaf point. Right over the top of my wrists. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I don’t even know where the idea came from. I blame it on that 2nd glass of Beaujolais Nouveau. That will teach me to drink non-local wine.

I know that I could be working the sleeves on dp needles and be able to maintain the tube structure of the sleeves. However I hate working with dp needles. Also, there’s a high chance of my forgetting to count my rows, or mess up the decreases (or both) and turning this lovely pattern into a briars patch.

I am 2/3rds through the 1st sleeve. I haven’t done a swatch. I have no idea if I have enough yarn for this. On the good side, the yarn is machine washable and I’m loving that Aran pattern. It looks like dragon scales from certain angles.

I’m also playing with the idea of doing most of the torso with ribbing. Maybe a twisted rib. Not sure how I’m going to play the remaining two colours together. Maybe something intarsia, maybe I’ll just do panels. Not sure.

One of these days, I’ll actually design a whole sweater BEFORE I start knitting it.

Yeah, right.

Anyways, we’ve having our friends Karin and Dave and his parents over for a curry dinner tonight. Karin is coming over early for a refresher course on how to make naan. I have to make sure the house is in some sort of civilized order. I also have this annoying thing called a job I should get to...



Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Comfort food & knits

(Updated - Thanks Laurie for picking up that missing squash. I've revised the recipe below)

The winds are howling like wolves in heat, sneering at the sight of any umbrella that dared to bare its teeth. The rain, oh, this is the rain that epic poems are made of. This is the rain that drills holes into the ground and turns streets into rivers and reminds us Walmart plebians that waterfront property is used as rice paddies in other times and places.

It’s a shame that some of this glorious tempest didn’t come in the growing months when the farmers could have used it.

The storm is coming through strong. They’re calling for 120km winds on the west coast and up to 90 km for the rest of the island. I don’t know if it’s getting that burly here on the inside edge of the island here but it’s making short work of the backyard fence and is certainly providing a whole lot of drama. Even the ferries have been cancelled to the mainland. This brings to mind just how tenuous our reach to the mainland really is.

I’m cozied up inside, wrapped in the brilliant hug of MY NEW SWEATER!!!!

The first thing I did this morning was put on my new sweater and take it for a test run now that it’s finally dried from blocking. And not a moment too late, it’s the knitted equivalent of comfort food.

Speaking of comfort food, I made one of my favorite comfort foods last night for dinner: Risotto. Not just any risotto, I made a chorizo-butternut squash- manchego risotto. OK, the rice and the cheese weren’t from a local farms but most of the rest of the meal was. I had a ½ a chorizo sausage from Quist Farms just down the highway, some of the roasted butternut squash, onion and garlic from local farms, swiss chard and parsley from my own veggie garden and chicken stock made from local chickens. The swiss chard was sautéed in oil and crushed garlic and dressed with a few drops of pear balsamic vinegar from Auld Alliance farms on Gabriola Island.

It was so good that Kevin and I barely spoke while eating dinner except to remark about how good it was. The savory spicy sausage played against the sweet squash and the manchego cheese provided just the right amount of unami richness. It just all came together so well in the creamy risotto that I was surprised by how well it turned out. The swiss chard provided a nice break with its mild bitterness and simple greenness.

Here’s a picture of Kevin enjoy the last of his risotto. 10 seconds later he was literally licking the bowl clean. I don’t have any pictures of that because I was too busy laughing while protecting my bowl of risotto from his predatory fork.

Here’s the Fast & Dirty recipe for Chorizo-Squash-Manchego Risotto (serves 2)

1 cup Arborio rice

½ link dried chorizo - chopped

1 cup roasted butternut squash- cubed

½ small onion or 2 shallots- chopped fine

1 garlic chopped fine

1 litre chicken stock –simmering

½ cup manchego cheese –grated

1 pat of butter

handful of parsley- chopped fine

olive oil

salt & pepper

You want to have a pot of the stock simmering as you make this.

In a wide bottom pan, heat up a couple glugs of olive oil and the chorizo sausage over medium heat. Let the oils and flavour render out of the sausage a bit. Anytime you see the word 'render' you know it's going to be good eats.

Add onions and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until the onions have softened.

Add rice and stir so that the oil coats each grain. The rice will turn translucent on the outside with a white core.

Add in a ladle of hot stock into the pan.

Stir. Stir. Stir.

Keep stirring slowly until the rice absorbs most of the stock.

Repeat with another ladle of stock

And keep repeating until the rice is cooked through. This recipe will take most of the litre of stock and about 20 mins of cooking. You don’t want to overcook the rice into a gummy, pablum mess but you also don’t want crunchy risotto. I tend to cook it until there's only a residue of uncooked rice in the grain and then add a touch more stock and let it simply absorb the excess liquid.

Once it’s cooked through, drop in the butter, roasted squash, cheese and parsley.

Stir. Taste. Season.

You don’t have to stir the rice constantly for the whole 20 mins. I find that after the first couple ladlefuls of stock, I only have to stir it up once or twice and just let the rice absorb the liquid and make sure it doesn’t burn. By then the starch dust around the rice has done much its work to make a nice creamy base.

Some folks tell me that they find making risotto too time-consuming and tedious. Obviously they’ve been making sucky risotto because once you’ve had good risotto, you’ll realize that 20 minutes of your time is small price to pay for this bowl of Italian heaven. Quite frankly, during these cold, damp evenings, hanging out over a pot of steaming, savory goodness is not the worse place to be. Consider it a kitchen spa treatment as you inhale the wonderful aromas rising from your pan and you stir meditative patterns like a rake through a zen sand garden through the creamy rice.



Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Crappy candy may give you the runs

Well, in the ongoing caravan of corporate food recalls, Hershey's has jumped onto the bandwagon with one of their own. Hershey's Canada has recalled it's chocolate and candy bars because they might be contaminated with salmonella.

The products included in the recall have date codes ranging from 6417 to 6455 and were manufactured between Oct. 15 and Nov. 10.

Salmonella can cause symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Which means that Oh Henry! bar will look just the same going into you the same as it does coming out.

Just stop eating crappy corporate candy. The salmonella isn't the most dangerous thing in it. Unfortunately, whereas foreign bacteria is categorized as a health hazard, they haven't come around to doing to same to high fructose corn syrup.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Crumbs and other bits of weekend musings

In response to Bruce’s question, I made moose sausage stew. From frozen sausages to yummy stew in under 30 mins. Nothing more that browning the frozen whole sausages, some onions, carrots and celery and topping it with stock. I only had a few cups of stock left so I added a parmesan rind, some Moroccan olives to add more flavour to the diluted broth. I let it all simmer away for 20 mins. The last of the roasted veggies went in at the end. I cut the sausages with a pair of cooking shears while they were still in the pot so not a drop of savory moose juice would be lost to a cutting board. The sausage was made from a moose that Kev’s uncle took down this fall. Lucky for us, Kev’s folks were willing to part with some of their stash. Moose is so tasty. It has a rich taste but not gamey like you would think a moose would be.

I made enough to see us through the weekend because I had a pretty full dance card and also wanted to do a bunch of reading, baking and knitting.

This is what I’m reading:

I heart Julia Child.

This is what I baked:

I made a batch of Pesto-parma bread, a hearty peasant rye and a kasha seed bread. All made with flours milled by True Grains bakery in Cowichan Bay. The flours are such a pleasure to work with. It makes up such a soft and supple dough. Hopefully this will last us for a couple of weeks.

I love breadmaking. Even though I have an awesome KitchenAid mixer that can handle most bread doughs, I still like to do most of the kneading by hand. One of the great by-products of making your own bread, is well, you get to make your own bread. The process itself is a joy, especially when you have freshly milled flour. I didn’t realize the different it would make until I started buying my flour fresh.

I love the process of taking a sticky mass and being actively part of the process as it evolves into a dough. With my feet firmly planted, channeling the energy from the ground, along my legs, through my pelvis and along the pliant curve of my spine, my shoulders and out along my arms and from my palms and fingers into the dough. I am a firm believer of we are what we eat. I also believe that we eat what we are. The foods we choose reflects the relationship we have with ourselves and the world around us.

When we cook, our energy, the thoughts that fill our heads and hearts go into our food. The intent comes through in the food we make. Bread is very sensitive food that absorbs whatever you put into it.

Never bake or knit when angry.

Though kneading bread is a meditative and sometimes cathartic activity, you do have to work the dough with energy. The energy is intuitive and aware, listening to what the dough needs (sorry about that pun) and slowly letting the dough form and strengthen it’s bonds to create a chewy, tasty bread. Using the dough as a punching bag to take out your frustrations will lead you to a sticky, gummy mass that may not rise simply out of spite;)

And for the knitting part…(drum roll please…)

I finished the kimono-shrug-wrap!!! Yippee!!

It took a whole week to finally finish up one of the straps and put on a collar but it’s done! I can’t believe I managed to finish most of a sleeve in one day but it took me a whole freaking week to do the finishing bits & pieces. Things just kept popping up, folks just kept popping by and I just kept popping around.

But last night, I managed to get to the final push and had it blocked by a quarter to midnight. Whew, no sweater turning into pumpkin fiascos here.

Like most of my pieces, I have only a vague idea of what the end product will look like. I had certain criteria to abide by.

- For function, I needed something I could throw on in the early morning as I worked at my desk. Generally it’s only my upper back and shoulders that get a chill thanks to the wonky insulation in this old house.

- I needed to use up the yarn leftover from a wedding afghan I made for Kev’s sister. I also had a gorgeous Noro yarn salvaged from a scarf that I got bored with. I supplemented this stash with more Noro yarn.

-And like every other sweater I’ve made, it has to be something I can’t buy at the mall because really, what’s the point of putting that much energy into something that doesn’t carry your personal stamp of style?

I chose to do something in the spirit of Kaffe Fassett and decided to go with this as my pattern motif. It’s from a Vietnamese planter that my mom got me years ago.

(my interpretation of the above motif)

I am in love with sleeves. Full, wide sleeves that can house a bird’s nest and a quiver of weapons and my lipstick. It’s from watching too many Chinese historical movies ;) I’ve been playing around with deconstructing traditional Chinese and Japanese clothing for the last few years and reinterpreting elements in knit. Yes, there’s an Asian undertone to this whole piece with a Vietnamese inspired motif, Chinese clothing elements and Japanese yarn.

I can’t wait to wear it.


Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

- Maya Angelou

Friday, November 10, 2006

Gone Crackers

My DH thinks I’m a freaking genius because I know how to make crackers. I hesitate to tell him that of all the baking I do, crackers are the easiest of the lot. They’re simple, cheap and lend themselves a million variations.

I learned how to make crackers from an ex-boyfriend who also taught me where my threshold for relationship BS was. Since then, I’ve gone crackers and I mean that in a good way ;)

I’ve been known to dine on nothing but hazelnut crackers and a jar of wildflower honey and shards of parma cheese. Sweet crackers go well with cheese. It’s the simple culinary equation of Salty + Sweet = Yummy Balance. Think of lemon-honey cracker with some Parmesan cheese or a sweet hazelnut cracker with a good piece of Natural Pasture’s Boerenkaas cheese.

As much as I enjoy a sweet cracker, I was hankering for a savory cracker this afternoon after my mid-afternoon wandering. Specifically, I was craving black sesame seed cracker (aka Gomashio Cracker).

It may have been partly due to a couple emails and phone calls from friends about what to do with the rest of the bag of black sesame seeds after they’ve made the gomashio dressing from yesterday’s blog that led me to this unleavened yearning. I like to think it was the symphony of fall leaves playing counterpoint to the lush evergreens and the crisp bite of in the air that had me wanting this comfort food.

As mentioned, these crackers are dead easy to make. Here’s my Fast & Dirty recipe for Gomashio Crackers

1 cup flour ( plus more for rolling) – I used stoneground Kamut flour from True Grains Bakery in Cowichan Bay

2 tablespoons of cold butter or vegetable or olive oil

½ teaspoon sea salt

4-5 black peppercorns

1/3 cup black sesame seeds

¼ cup cold water (plus more if needed)

1 teaspoon sesame seed oil

Preheat over to 400F. Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpat sheet.

Grind salt, sesame seeds and peppercorn in mortar and pestle or in spice/coffee grinder.

Combine the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. If using butter, cut it into the flour until it’s combined into a fine crumb. Dump in the water, vegetable/olive oil (if using) and sesame seed oil . Mix on low (or do it by hand) until it comes together. If it’s too dry, add water a ½ teaspoon at a time, mixing between. The dough should come together in your hand but not be sticky.

Now you’re ready to roll. Sprinkle work surface with flour. Pull out a golf ball size of dough and roll it out into a long strip about 3 inches wide and about the length of your cookie sheet. Roll out dough to at least ¼ inch thickness. I like my super-thin so I aim for less than 1/8th inch thick.

A pastry cutter or spatula/flipper is helpful in lifting the dough off the work surface. Don’t worry too much about rips in the dough, just pat it back together.

Place onto cookie sheet and repeat. I can usually fit 3 strips into a cookie sheet. Score the crackers with a sharp knife or pastry cutter or pizza cutter so they’ll be easier to break apart later. You could make these even and square but then they would look like store bought crackers. What’s the point of making homemade crackers when they end up look like generic factory made crackers? I like mine with the edges uneven. I believe it makes the cracker taste better.

Pop them into the oven for 8-10 mins or until golden brown. Let cool on rack and enjoy!

These will store for up to a week in airtight container. Feel free to double, triple, heck you may even have to decuple the recipe once everyone gets a taste of them. They are quite addictive.

For other variations try herbs (fresh or dried), nuts and spices like cumin, coriander, curry blend, nigella seeds, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, 5 spice blend, cayenne and chipolte pepper are all great cracker additions in my book.

Cheese also does well in this recipe. Hard and semi-hard cheeses like a parma or aged manchego or asiago can be grated in with the dry ingredients. Soft crumbly cheeses like a blue cheese or a feta do great. I find that soft cheeses like Camembert and mozzarella are more difficult to work into the cracker dough and are better off as toppings once the cracker is done.

For sweet variation, decrease the salt in the above recipe to a pinch and add in a teaspoon or 2 of sugar, honey, maple syrup or pomegranate molasses. A spoonful of fig or other fruit preserves can be worked into the dough for added richness and sweetness. Sugar can also be sprinkled and pressed onto the top of the dough before baking. However, I find this makes it too much like cookie. For a sweet touch, I often do nothing more than some spices. Think apple or pumpkin pie type spices. I also like them with citrus zest. If I’m feeling really decadent, I’ll pop in some freshly ground nuts.

For a gluten-free version, replace flour with pretty much any other flour from rice flour (brown or white), corn flour, potato flour (not potato starch) quinoa flour or amaranth flour. The textures will differ from flour to flour. I personally like it with 2 parts brown rice flour, 1 part cornstarch, 1 part corn flour.

It’spast 7pm & I haven’t started on dinner yet. Even though DH is quite enamored with the crackers, he’s not warming up to the idea of crackers for dinner.



Feed me!

(insert lame ethnic cooking comment or Dr. Seuss rip-off here)

Most chefs, professional or in-home, love getting invited to dinner at other’s people’s homes. This is different than going out for dinner at a restaurant, which is fun but not the same.

I relish being on the receiving end of a home cooked meal. Sometimes I’m just tired of cooking for everyone else, even for myself. Really, there are times when I’d rather sit back, read, knit, go for a paddle, join a friend for a climb, hang out, goof off and then show up at the dinner table and have a home-cooked meal waiting for me. I know it’s hard to believe but really, there are such times ;)

Sometimes I get tired of my own cooking and am hungry (pardon the pun) for someone’s spin on a dish. Recipes are a great vehicle into a family’s history and a culture. I learned to make many dishes by infiltrating friend’s kitchens, along with learning a great deal about them.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been invited to other people’s dinner table this year. Most of those times have been at my in-laws, who are great cooks.

This lack of dinner invitations is a common problem amongst kitchen savvy folks. It’s a pattern that a social circle falls into. The one kitchen compatible friend gets branded the ‘chef’ of the group and everyone just shows up at their place for dinner by default. Though a few of us are arrogant oafs, most chefs make lovely dinner guests. Just keep the wine bottle away from us ;)

I’ve been told by my culinary neophyte friends that they’re afraid to invite me over for fear of what I’d think about their cooking. They fear that I’d be dictating a scathing review in my head, silently nitpicking at their dishes, muttering to myself about how the carrots are bland and that the pasta is overcooked. I’m horrified that they would think I would behave so. Part of this inferiority complex is fed by the assumption that what I cook at home is complicated (it isn’t) and that I am privy to chef-jedi secrets (I wish). If anyone is going to appreciate a home cooked meal, it would be a chef. Who better to know what you went through to put together a meal than someone who has to do it every day?

To remedy this, I’ve been offering to teach my friends or family how to cook in hopes that they will feel confident enough to invite me over for dinner. I’ve had some great successes with my Vancouver circle with a trio of vegan ronins, the love child of Nigel Slater and Nigella Lawson and a spatula-wielding knight who wooed his lady with 4-course meals. However, on the island I haven’t had much success with this plan.

This has all changed now that our dear friends Karin, Dave and the 5 furry kids have moved into Nanaimo. I’ve known Karin since our Squamish days and she’s been gleaning cooking lessons from the beginning. I spent this past weekend at their place, teaching her how to make everything from Pad Thai to sorbets to preserving. It’s finally paid off ;)

Last night, I got invited to their place for dinner. A real dinner invitation. We made plans earlier in the week and everything, as if we were grown-ups or something. DH was invited too but wasn’t feeling too social. I think his new SOCOM 4 game had more to do with his absence than any anti-social tendencies.

So off to their new home I went. I was greeted at the door by their 5 furry kids and the enticing aroma of dinner cooking. Dinner was a beautifully roasted local free-ranged chicken that they picked up from the Shady Mile market and some local veggies roasted right in the pan.

Dessert was a duo of sorbets, a coconut lime and a cranberry. The cranberries were made with a batch we picked up from Yellow Point cranberries. A simple and elegant way to end an equally simply and elegant meal. Bravo!
We even had dinner companions:

(the cat version of college kids all piling into a telephone booth)

For dinner, I picked up a bottle of Ortega wine from Zanatta vineyards in the Cowichan valley. All the grapes used for their wine are grown in their Glenora vineyard. It was a fruity and rich white wine that paired well with the chicken. I could see it going really well with a Thai green curry or the pan-fried halibut with pesto gnocchi we had last week

(Thanks Pete for the halibut. I was awesome!).

BTW, I picked up the wine at North Gate beer and wine store, across from Superstore. It’s got a great selection of local wines and ciders.

I also found Volume 2 of my favorite red wine, Bete Noire (Black Beast) by Cherry Point Vineyards. This local red is a bit rough and bloodthirsty, with a deep fruity finish. In other words, a great wine snob repellant ;) I think red wine ought to be a bit bloody and carry itself with a bit of a swagger. Anyways, how could you resist a name like Bete Noire?

Hosting a dinner party doesn’t have to be an ornate affair. You don’t have to make everything from scratch. Sometimes it’s just a matter of assembling a dinner. On the island we have a great selection of locally made cheeses. Everything water buffalo to cow milk cheeses to fill your cheese plate. Nanoose Edibles carries a great line of smoked albacore tuna and salmon for an appetizer and locally made dressings for your salad. There are prepared jams and jellies for folks to nibble with crackers. Check out Golden Maples Farm at a Christmas craft fair near you. She makes her products from fruits and veggies grown right on her own farm. She even has lemon and lime trees growing in her greenhouse!

For dessert, pick up a Grandma’s Country pie from the Nanaimo Sausage House on 3018 Ross Rd (behind the County Club mall). They have a sour cherry pie that is getting quite the following. Their blackberry pie is on the top of my list. They have a range of pies from berries to pumpkin to lemon meringue. You can contact them at and place your order. While you’re at the Nanaimo Sausage House, pick up some sausages. They make them right there on the premises and it shows. We’re fans of the hot pepperoni and their smokies are DH’s favorites and that’s saying a lot. They also carry local cheeses and free-ranged eggs.

The main course can simply be a simple soup, a roasted chicken or fish. Heck, I’ve served scrambled eggs and toast for a dinner party.

For larger dinner parties, hold it as a potluck. Better yet, host it as a 100 Mile Diet potluck and have folks bring in their favorite locally-grown dish. Before you start the meal, have everyone introduce their dish and where they got the ingredients. This is great way to share and learn who your local growers are.

Have a tasty day!


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thai one on

I finally got around to freezing the 15 pounds of tomatoes I got from Gary Argyle’s farm this past weekend. Of course, now I had to find room for 15 pounds of tomatoes in our tiny chest freezer. In order to make more real estate, I pulled out a few odds and ends to be made into dinner including some corn (from McNab’s farm) and a few meatballs leftover from a Frikadeller dinner a few weeks back, a couple cups of beef stock and a block of Pete’s organic extra firm tofu. Tofu freezes beautifully and can be thawed either at room temperature or immersed in boiling water. Just make sure to press out the excess water. The tofu takes on a meatier texture after being frozen.

The possibilities are endless, especially with a vat of ready-to-go roasted veggies at my disposal. I could have done a stew or a tomato based chowder. I could have done a funky Ma Po Tofu or a miso-marinated stirfry. I could have done a savoury risotto with corn & tomato salsa. Or just toss the stock back into the freezer and used the rest of the ingredients as the base for a super-simple pasta.

I was still savoring last night’s noodle dish and wanted something warm and comforting. So I decided on my Thai One On noodle soup. Here’s the Fast & Dirty directions for soup:

3-4 oz rice sticks

5 meatballs – quartered

1 heaping teaspoon minced ginger

1 garlic clove- minced

1 green onion/scallion chopped

3 cup cilantro chopped

2-3 oz of extra firm tofu – pressed and cubed

2 cups roasted veggies

½ cup frozen corn

2-3 tomatoes chopped into chunks

2-3 cups diluted beef broth. Basically 2 part broth to 1 part water. Veggie or chicken broth would be fine. Use low-sodium if you’re using pre-fab.

2 tablespoon fish sauce

½ teaspoon sambel oelek

2 kaffir lime leaves minced fine – use fresh or frozen

juice of ½ lime

couple shots of sesame seed oil

peanut or veg. oil

Topping options – chopped cilantro/parsley/scallions, shredded carrots, fresh thai basil, lime wedges, shredded egg omelet/scramble egg, bean sprouts, dry roasted peanuts or any other nuts or seeds

Soak rice sticks in boiling water. Cover and set aside. Once soft, drain and rinse in cold water. Set aside.

In a wok, heat up the oil over high heat. Dump in meatballs, ginger, garlic, cilantro, scallions. Stir fry for a few minutes. Take a moment and inhale the wonderful aromatics.

Dump in tofu and let that brown a bit. Dump in roasted veggies, tomatoes, corn, beef broth, fish sauce, sambel oelek and lime leaves. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer for 10 mins.

Finish off with the lime juice and the sesame seed oil.

Arrange noodles in bowls and top with the piping hot soup. Garnish as desired. I just had some lime slices on the side just in case folks wanted a larger slap of citrus.

So good on a cold fall night. This is one of my favorite soups. I love the beautiful, robust flavours of Thai cooking. I often keep a small jar of 'Thai It Up' sauce in my fridge. Here's the fast & dirty recipe for that:
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon organic cane sugar or honey
1 thumb of ginger grated
1-2 garlic cloves crushed
2-3 kaffir lime leaves minced fine
1/8 teaspoon sambel oelek (you can use more if you want)
a couple shots of sesame seed oil

Dump everything into a jar and store in the fridge for up to a month. Shake before using.

You can use in absolutely everythng ;)
You can add it a simple brothy soup, drizzle it over scrambled eggs, use it as seasoning for a stirfry, add a spoonful to fish congee with lots and lots of cilantro, use it as a dipping sauce for gyozas/potstickers or dimsum (so good with har gow and sui mai), dump it over cellophane noodles and let marinate overnight for the best noodle salad or use it as a slaw dressing.

Speaking of slaw, (look Kev, a segue) for our first course I made a quick asian slaw with gomashio dressing. As mentioned before, gomashio is one of those items that is usually grossly overpriced when bought already made. Along with the fact that it will start going rancid as soon as it’s made, it’s just absurd to be paying $6 for something that really only costs 25 cents and 3 minutes to make. Just toast up a couple spoonfuls of black sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat until you smell the toasted sesame seed goodness. Then with a good pinch of sea salt and pound in a mortar & pestle for a few seconds or toss into spice/coffee grinder and pulse a couple times.

Here’s my Fast & Dirty Asian Slaw & Gomashio Dressing recipe:

In the bowl that you’re going to serve the salad in dump in (because you don't really need more dishes to do):

2 tablespoons rice vinegar – just eyeball it

½ teaspoon honey – I used a wonderful local wildflower honey

1 tablespoons gomashio

Mix until the honey has dissolved.

Then add in (again eyeball it because it would be stupid to actually measure this out):

1 cup finely shredded cabbage – pretty much any type of cabbage will do. I’m still working my way through a red cabbage.

½ cup carrots- sliced fine

½ cup English cucumber sliced fine

Toss and let sit while you prepare the rest of dinner. You could let the veggies marinated overnight too.

We had our usual last minute, drop-in dinner guest show up and the above recipe was enough to feed me and two grown men.

Of course, all the veggies and the meat from the meatballs are from local farms. Dinner itself took less than 30 minutes to make. You can play around with the vegetable and meat options for the noodle soup. Use whatever leftover meats or seafood you have on hand. It's a great way to use up leftover baked salmon. Just add right it to the soup at the very end so it does get too fishy. Or use tofu, tempeh & /or beans like chickpeas . Instead of rice sticks, you could use udon or egg noodles but I like rice sticks best with this soup. The veggie alternatives are pretty much whatever you can find. Again, leftover veggies do well in this soup. If you really want to go super-deluxe, you could even toss in dumplings.


Nanaimo's 100 Mile Diet Challenge