Friday, November 6, 2009

Food as Identity: Are you what you eat?

I read a lot and lately I have been reading a lot about food. Here are a few of the most recent titles: Diamond Grill by Fred Wah, A Taste of Paprika by Laura Elise Taylor, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter, and Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. The first three texts are memoirs. I'm only about 50 pages into Near a Thousand Tables, but so far it is an interesting in-depth analysis of food consumption over the ages. What these texts all have in common though, is that they explore the concept of identity through food. In each story, food is the common bond that brings people together. As I was reading each text, I asked myself a lot of questions. How big of a role does food play in the creation of our identities? Are we really what we eat?
I work in a Thai restaurant and a lot of what we serve is from well outside of the 100 mile diet's boundaries. There is no such thing as a local papaya, mango or lemon? How can the 100 mile diet apply to those of ethnic origin when so much of who they are depends on what they eat? If you take away the food, do you take away the identity?
I noticed in my time at the Thai restaurant, that the family who owned it only ate Thai food. They claimed that they did not like Canadian food. It got me thinking, what exactly is Canadian food? When I asked what they considered Canadian food, they said hamburgers. I laughed. I could see why they would think that since the masses of fast food chains mostly serve hamburgers. That night at home, I really sat and thought about it. I found myself pondering out loud, "I wonder if they've ever had pancakes". "Probably not," Alex answered from the living room.
Lo and behold, I get to work on Monday morning, and the owner is standing in the kitchen waving a box of Aunt Jemima pancake batter at me and saying "I'm Canadian". I couldn't help but laugh. I told him to wait until the following day when I could bring some real maple syrup and we could have a pancake feast. I drew a picture of a maple tree and tried to explain that the syrup came from inside the tree. They just looked at me in wonder. Crazy talk! On the following morning, we all had our first Canadian breakfast together.
Later that week I was talking to a couple of our regulars, a cute retired couple. I was telling them about our Canadian culinary adventures in the kitchen. Peter Morris and his wife, Jean, posed the exact same question that I had: What exactly is Canadian food?

A week later, Peter and Jean returned. Jean had dug through her old cookbooks and found one that she thought might interest me. She presented me with her gift. The cookbook, Canada Cookbook: The Scenic Land, was published in North Vancouver, BC and had sections for French heritage, the heritage of Upper Canada, the First Nations, prairie harvest and Canada's international cities. There were recipes from cultures whose cuisine I had never tried. Quite a few recipes called for ingredients that were mostly unavailable to the average Canadian urban dweller, such as venison, rabbit, frogs legs, saskatoon berries and moose. Jean had written a small list of recipes from the book that she thought were particularly Canadian. The list included pea soup, apple pie and popcorn, all of which I had made and eaten many times. But there were many recipes included in the book that I had never heard of, let alone considered part of my regular diet. Could this cookbook, then, be considered a true reflection of Canadian culture? If we are what we eat, what the heck was I?
I went home, cookbook in hand, and vowed that I would make something new and 'Canadian' that very night. I chose Cream of Pumpkin Soup from the Upper Canada Heritage section. I just happened to have several pumpkins lying around that needed to be consumed. The recipe for the soup is below:
Cream of Pumpkin Soup
900 g pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
3 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 tbsp flour
3 cups hot milk
1/2 cup hot chicken stock
salt and pepper
Place pumpkin into large saucepan and cover with salted water. Bring to boil and cook for 20 minutes. Drain and puree. Set aside. Melt butter in saucepan. Add onions; cook 2 minutes. Add flour; mix and cook 1 minute. Add milk; stir and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Season well and incorporate pumpkin puree and chicken stock; stir and cook 20 minutes over low heat.
Serve with croutons.

The soup was delicious, rich and creamy! Finally, something else I can do with all these pumpkins. Thank you to Jean Morris for your thoughtful gift. I have looked at that cookbook everyday. I would love to hear from others... what do you consider a truly Canadian meal? What recipe has been passed on from generation to generation in your family? If a Canadian restaurant was to open in another country, what would it serve? Please post your comments and/or recipes here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

My fellow foodie....

She was regular enough that we could continue conversations where we last left off, but not regular enough that I knew her name. When last she was in the Thai restaurant where I work, we were talking about food. Not the food that I was carefully packing into a bag for her lunch, but the kind you grow. We talked about eating locally and gardening. I told her about my blog. Then last week, she popped in, ordered the dish I had recommended to her on her last visit, and asked me if I had ever seen Canadian garlic. I told her I had. We talked about garlic politics and how much we prefer Canadian garlic. There had been a garlic seller earlier this summer at the farmer's market. I had thought that he would be there again and deemed it too early for a braid of garlic. He never returned. I told her how disappointed I was that I had missed out on the opportunity. She told me that she grew garlic herself that summer. She asked if I wanted some. Did I? Of course I did, I replied, perhaps a little too exuberantly. I was certain that this was a rhetorical question. Who didn't want fresh, locally grown bulbs of garlic? She left with her lunch, promising to return the following day with her gift of garlic.
The following morning, I watched eagerly as customers came and went. I told myself that people offer gifts all the time and never follow through. My mother always told me that it was the thought that counted. Hopefully, this thought would taste like garlic. And suddenly she came bouncing into the restaurant with an overstuffed brown paper bag, her face obscured by the feathery green tops of a bunch of carrots. Before I could say anything else, I blurted, "What's your name?" She laughed, "Trish". I smiled, took the bag from her and told her my name. She had literally just finished pulling this bounty out of her garden. The bag was filled with carrots, leeks, red onions and precious garlic. I inhaled deeply. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And as quickly as she came, she went. She left me dreaming about the endless possibilities...
The next morning I rose bright and early, scrubbed the dirt of the vegetables, trimmed them, and chopped them up into large chunks. I had decided the day before that I was going to try out this vegan soup recipe that I had found in a cookbook entitled Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes by Devra Gartenstein.

Roasted Leek and Carrot Soup

1 pound carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 pound leeks, washed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, quartered
1 whole head of garlic, broken into unpeeled cloves
3 T olive oil
2 Q vegetable stock or water
1 c white wine
1 c fresh parsley, chopped

¼ c nutritional yeast
1 t salt
2-3 T balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 450.
Toss carrots, leeks, and onion with the oil and spread on cookie sheet, leaving one corner free. Put the garlic cloves in the same bowl and mix around to get the last of the oil, then place in corner of the cookie sheet. Roast for 30-40 minutes, until golden.
Meanwhile, combine stock, wine, parsley, nutritional yeast, and salt and simmer over medium-low heat. When the veggies are roasted, add carrots, leeks, and onion to the stock, and squeeze the garlic out of the cloves, adding the garlic to the soup and discarding the skins. Once veggies have been added, simmer for another 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in balsamic. Let cool for about 15 minutes.

Blend soup in batches until smooth, taste, and adjust seasonings. Return to pot, reheat and serve.

My soup was made without the nutritional yeast because I didn't have any and I think it was just fine without it. I put only 2 1/2 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar but I think it could have used a little less. The soup was fantastic! All the flavours worked really well together. You could actually taste the freshness of the produce. The only problem with the soup was how it looked. It was the most disgusting soup I had ever seen. It smelled wonderful but it was an orangey-brown colour that just looked wrong. If you are a person who is affected by food aesthetics, this might not be the soup for you. Otherwise it was full of flavour and extremely healthy.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Trish! :)

Monday, October 12, 2009

100 Mile Thanksgiving Feast

This is a year of firsts... my first year having my own Thanksgiving (just me and Alex), my first 100 mile year, and the first time I've ever celebrated Thanksgiving on actual Thanksgiving. My family, for as long as I can remember, has celebrated Thanksgiving on the Sunday. Even though it was just the two of us, I was most excited about Thanksgiving this year. The challenge: to see if I could celebrate entirely 100 mile.
On Saturday morning, as per usual, Alex and I headed to the farmers market. I carefully selected Thanksgiving dinner from vendors whose food was both local and in season. Since I'm not crazy about turkey (it gives me stomach aches), we decided to get a chicke. We picked up a 4 lb fryer from the Guelph Poultry Market. The GPM sells chicken that is free of hormones and antibiotics, as well as being free range. A 4 lb bird set us back a mere $6.80.
To accompany our bird we chose a selection of seasonal vegetables. We got corn on the cob from the little old guy inside the market. He sells local corn which has not been sprayed. I found an heirloom variety of squash at Bowman's booth. It is called a carnival squash and it is yellow and a bluish colour. The Bowmans also sold me some bright yellow patty pans. This was my first time buying them and only my second time eating them. At Greenfields Organics I found some delicious looking carrots and a red cabbage which would add nicely to the mixture. The two pie pumpkins I purchased came from the lady inside who sells free-range eggs. My stuffing was made with local butter, herbs from my own garden, onion, garlic and celery from vendors at the Market and bread that I baked using Grassroot Organics Red Fife flour. I braised my red cabbage with onions and apple (from the family who sells the apples), along with some locally fermented apple cider vinegar, butter, honey (from Mark McAlpine) and a little of Cox Creek Cellars' Peach Symphony.
Although I know that chicken should be served with white wine, not red, Alex and I had finished the white long before dinner. So, with our feast we had a bottle of Cox Creek Cellars Pinot Noir.
For dessert, my favourite... pumpkin pie. The pastry was made with local eggs (from Shannon Lee's new hen!) and Grassroot Organics Red Fife flour. The pie was filled with roasted and pureed pumpkin, fresh from the market.
All in all, the only part of our meal that could not be considered local was the lemon I used on the chicken and the spices used in the pumpkin pie. Would Thanksgiving dinner be complete without pumpkin pie? And would pumpkin pie be complete without nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and allspice? Absolutely not.
Over dinner I told Alex what I was thankful for. I told him that I was thankful that my family has made it through the toughest year of our lives together. I am thankful for my friends, old and new. I am thankful to all the farmers who produced the food that we enjoyed so much. And finally, I am thankful that I have someone wonderful to share my time with and that he puts up with all my antics and idiosynchracies. I really am a lucky girl.
So, all in all, this 100 Mile Thanksgiving feast was a 100% success! Can't wait to do it again next year! Gotta go... pie time!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Backyard Bounty

In my ongoing search for reliable, organic, local produce, I stumbled upon Backyard Bounty. Introduced via Facebook, Shannon Lee Stirling and I began communicating back and forth. Eventually, we met in person one morning at the Guelph Farmers Market and since I was interested in learning more about what they do, I decided to volunteer on a couple of harvest days.

On a wet and muddy Tuesday morning at 7 am, Shannon and Julianna picked me up at Planet Bean. Armed with coffees and zucchini loaf, we made our ways out to the backyards we were to harvest that morning.

The first backyard wasn't actually a backyard, but a front yard which, apparently, had caused quite a stir in the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood's ideas of aesthetics were challenged by the neat rows of peppers and eggplant. Personally, I thought it was beautiful.We continued on to another house where hot peppers grew close to the ground and sunflowers towered over our heads. We spent the last hour in another yard full of delicious greens. What a sight! We filled buckets full of fresh greens, much of which was to be delivered to The Cornerstone. I love hearing that restaurants are supporting local, urban agriculture projects, such as this one. One of the down sides of dining out is not knowing where the food comes from. I can put that worry on the shelf when I sit down to a fresh salad at the Cornerstone now.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and I had to make my way to work. But I promised the girls that I would return for another harvest day. It was a wonderful way to begin my day. Easy, cheerful conversation with like-minded souls, harvesting fresh and delicious produce. I went to work with dirt under my fingernails but a smile on my face.

The Low-Down

Innovative and eco-minded, Backyard Bounty is an extremely unique urban agriculture project, operated by a small team of three, Robert Orland (founder), Scott Williams (Head Farmer) and Shannon Lee Stirling, Project Coordinator. Throughout the season they also relied on the kindness of volunteers, of which there never seem to be enough.
Backyard Bounty converts yards belonging to participating community members into productive mini farms in exchange for fresh produce and free yard work. Apparently interest was high and some yard owners were actually turned down. The ones that were chosen were selected for size, soil type, location, and the amount of sunlight available. All produce was grown from heritage, non-GMO seeds and produced without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They sell their wares at the Guelph Farmers Market on Saturdays, to CSA members, and participating restaurants, such as The Cornerstone in Guelph. CSA shares cost $400 for 20 weeks, a mere $20 per week, AND the price includes delivery! Considering the price of gas these days, this is a steal. *Prices will be a little higher next year and there will be a delivery charge, with the option to pick it up yourself. Check Backyard Bounty's website for more updates on this and more.
In the spring, Backyard Bounty produces arugula, lettuce, beet greens, radishes, turnips, kohlrabi, kale, broccoli, green onions, corn salad, spinach, snap peas, edible flowers, and herbs. In the summer, produce includes: zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, radish, beets, carrots, swiss chard, basil, eggplant, herbs, cut flowers, snap beans, and peppers. Fall shares include cabbage, kale, broccoli, squash, pumpkin, beans, fennel, beets, leeks, onions, arugula, lettuce, radishes, and more herbs. There's really no better way to ensure that what you are eating is local, clean and in season. It's also a great way to experiment with new vegetables! I only wish that I had discovered them at the beginning of the season.
If you are interested in puchasing your own CSA share, you should visit Backyard Bounty's website for further details:
Also, for those who are interested in learning more about urban agriculture should attend the Urban Agriculture Symposium on Friday, November 20th at the Arboretum. For more details on the symposium, click here:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wellington Rural Romp

It seems like weeks since my boyfriend and I have been able to spend any time together, just the two of us. So, what could be better than jumping in the Jeep and driving all over Wellington County for the third annual Rural Romp.
The romping started bright and early this morning with a trip to the Guelph Farmer's Market. Since I go to the market every Saturday morning, this was just a quick trip to grab the weekly necessities. Many food stuffs are at the end of their season and I was lucky enough to get a couple of large baskets of roma tomatoes. They make a delicious homemade tomato sauce. We visited our new friends at Backyard Bounty, grabbed enough greens for the week, and headed out on the open road. First stop, Mapleton's Organic.
Mapleton's Organic was the furthest away so we thought we'd start there. I love driving in the country in the autumn. The colours are spectacular.

There wasn't much going on at Mapleton's so Alex and I walked around and looked at the animals. We spent some time hanging out with the cows, goats, alpacas and the pig. I really wanted to pick up some yogurt but we had a long day ahead of us, and it was a little early for ice ceam. Unfortunately, we didn't get to talk to the owner of Mapleton's. A reported from Cogeco News was setting up to interview him. I hope to return another day, when time permits a conversation. Mapleton's Fat Free Plain Yogurt is, afterall, my yogurt of choice.

From Mapleton's we headed to Shepherd's Watch 100 Mile Market, where we met Carol. Alex and I had very recently talked about how cool it would be if there was a local market that sold entirely local food stuffs. Here it was, in the heart of Arthur, Ontario.

Shepherd's Watch carries local produce, meats, pastas, grains and artisan cheese and yogurt. They also sell wool products, country photography and hand knitted crafts.
Their market doubles as a cafe where they serve homemade meals made from real farm food. What a great idea!! Carol urged us to visit Lynda at their farm. We purchased two coffees (Fair Trade coffee from Birds and Beans in Toronto), as well as some Bison, Wild Boar and Blueberry sausages. We'll be having them for dinner tonight. We said our goodbyes to Carol and made our way out to Shepherds Watch Farm to meet Lynda.

When we arrived at the farm another couple was just finishing a tour with Lynda so we wandered around and checked out the sheep. They seemed to know no boundaries, wandering freely all over the property. bawling at one another when left alone. Lynda took us on a fantastic tour, introducing us to the fascinating world of sheep farming. I was especially interested in the cheese making process. I will save the details for a blog which will be entirely devoted to Shepherd's Watch. For now, I'll say that we thoroughly enjoyed Lynda's company. She was knowledgeable and friendly and I look forward to writing the blog about their operation soon.

From Shepherd's Watch farm, Alex and I headed down Hwy. 6 toward Cox Creek Cellars. What romp is complete without a little wine tasting? I had never tried Cox Creek wines, let alone visited their cellars. For obvious reasons, a winery is a popular stop on a rural tour. We weren't surprised to see that it was busy when we got there.
After looking over the list of available wines, Alex and I selected a few that we wanted to try. First on the list was Russet Fantasy, an apple wine. It was light and crisp and delicious. In the whites, we also tried Cox Creek White and Peach Symphony. Since we had just bought a large basket of peaches at the Farmers Market earlier that morning, we chose the Peach Symphony to accompany a near future dessert that I had yet to plan.
For the reds, we selected three wines; Oak Barrel Aged Blackberry Wine, Cox Creek Red (made from the Baco Noir Grape) and the Pinot Noir, a Chestnut barrel aged grape wine. Personally, I found the blackberry wine far too sweet for my tastebuds. We chose the Pinot Noir. It was light but flavourful and would make a wonderful accompiament to some future 100 Mile meal. The young lady who served our wine was informativew and sweet. We opted to skip the tour since there were a lot of people there and I prefer a more one-on-one meeting where I can ask a lot of questions without an audience. Alex and I decided that we would return to Cox Creek another day. There will be an entire blog devoted to Cox Creek in the near future.
From Cox Creek we headed to Magda Farm, but on the way the Jeep decided it had had enough of the Romp. Somewhere on Fourth Line, between County Road 22 and 20, it overheated. We found ourselves stuck in the middle of nowhere, cold and hungry, in the pouring rain. Luckily, Magda Farm was literally a 2 minute drive away. We opted to stop there and tour around while the Jeep's engine cooled.
I had very recently sworn off grocery store meat for good. I don't like the idea that I don't know if hormones or antibiotics were used on the animal. I don't know what the animal has been eating and I don't know how it was treated. All of these factors play an important role in the decision making process when it comes to purchasing meat. When we stumbled upon Magda Farm we found everything we were looking for. Vegetarianism, while an easy choice for some, proved to be difficult for Alex and I. We are not afraid to admit that we eat and love eating meat... but not just any meat.

Since we were the last to grace her farm, we had Vera all to ourselves. She took us on a tour of the farm to show us the animals. While we walked she explained their farming methods, some fixed, some experimental. What was clear was her passion. She obviously loves what she does and really cares about the animals well-being. Magda Farm offers eggs from free-range hens, pasture-fed beef, free-run pork, as well as some roasters. The animals are hormone and antibiotic free and their feed is 100% non-GMO. Look for a future spotlight on Magda Farm. Alex and I had a really nice time chatting with Vera, but since the Romp was technically at its end, we purchased some eggs and meat and hit the road.

I'd like to tell you that this story ended happily, but it didn't. Somewhere just past Magda Farm, the Jeep decided that it had had enough of our day of romping and stopped. We had to be towed along the back roads to a mechanic. All in all, it was a wonderful day though. Alex and I met some wonderful people and learned a lot. Yay! for Rural Romp 2009!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Homemade Yogurt

Ever get tired of those silly yogurt commercials? You know the ones... the ones that promise all sorts of digestive and weight-loss miracles, while some scantily-clad, flat stomached woman wiggles her hips like Shakira? Right. Yogurt can do all that. And then there's the 'probiotics' craze, which much like the '0 trans fat' craze, has people buying food stuffs that they wouldn't normally buy just because it contains more or less of this new important dicovery. I like to think that I am above these marketing schemes but, alas, I am not. I, too, got caught up in the probiotic craze, with high hopes that my digestive tract would be clean as a whistle. One day, I was carefully reading each yogurt container's list of ingredients while my poor boyfriend leaned against the cart yawning. I must be the most annoying person to live with when I get on a kick. I check and re-check all the ingredients, getting more and more anxious over things I don't even understand. Shopping takes twice as long as it should. And then he wearily asked, "And what exactly are probiotics?" Ummmm. Errrrr. Uhhh. Sigh... "I don't know".
The truth is, what used to be simply yogurt has become pretty complicated over time. The choices seem endless: fruit and flavour added, fat-free, low calorie or no sugar added. Additives include vitamins, omega 3's, probiotics, artificial dyes, preservatives, sweeteners (both natural and artificial), flavour enhancers, thickeners and stabilizers. How do we ever know which one to choose?
The health benefits of yogurt are many, so don't give up on it out of sheer confusion. Yogurt is rich in calcium and promotes excellent colon health, while helping to reduce the risk of colon cancer. The live cultures in yogurt help to increase absorption in calcium, which, in turn, helps prevent osteoporosis. Make sure to read your yogurt label closely if you are buying store bought yogurt. Some yogurts are heat treated, which may increase shelf life, but kills helpful bacteria. Look for the words 'live' or 'active' so that you know the bacteria is living and functional.
Yogurt is rich in protein, B vitamins and essential minerals, and low in carbs. If made from skim milk, yogurt is also low in fat. It is good for those who are lactose intolerant because it contains lactase, the enzyme needed to properly digest lactose.
The beneficial bacteria in yogurt may help digestion, but in order for them to work properly, yogurt must be consumed daily. I start every morning off with a fresh fruit and yogurt smoothie, sweetened with local honey.
Personally, I got so tired of comparing yogurt labels that I decided to make my own. At least this way I would always know what was in it.
In order to make your own yogurt you need to start of with a good base. You can order starter packs of culture or you can use already made yogurt. I opted for the latter. It took me a while to find the perfect yogurt to use as my base, but I found it. I use Mapleton's Organic Fat Free Plain Yogurt. It is made with 6 live cultures, pasteurized organic skim milk and non-fat dry milk. You can use your own yogurt to start your next batch, but you can only use it once. Starter batches do freeze, however, so if you really wanted to save some money, your first entire batch of yogurt could be devoted to making and freezing starter batches. I am just not that organized or patient. I simply buy yogurt from the Stone Store or somewhere else that sells organic fat-free plain yogurt and take it from there. One container makes about 4 batches, with each batch consisting of six 8 oz containers. Below is the step-by-step process for making your own yogurt at home (taken from the instruction manual for my Waring Pro Yogurt Maker). You can make yogurt without a yogurt maker, but I considered it a life investment.

4 3/4 cups low-fat (2%) milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps dry nonfat milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps plain yogurt

Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Once milk reaches 185 F (85 C) and is about to boil, remove from stove and allow to cool to 110 F (45 C). To speed up the cooling process, whisk liquid frequently or place saucepan in ice water.
Once liquid reaches appropriate temperature, whisk in dry milk and the yogurt until ingredients are thoroughly homogenous.
Pour liquid into individual jars. Place jars into the yogurt maker without their lids. Cover the yogurt maker and set for 8 to 10 hours.
When the yogurt maker signals that the yogurt is finished, cover the jars with their lids and store in the refrigerator. Yogurt will keep refrigerated for up to one week.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pears, pears and more pears...

Oh, how I love Saturday mornings at the Farmer's Market! It has become a ritual best enjoyed alone. I say this not because I don't enjoy the company of others, but because I like to take my time. I like to take in the sounds and the smells without distraction, allowing them to inspire creation. I like to get there early. Every Saturday, I walk the entirety of the market, outside and in, before making a single purchase. I don't want to miss a thing. Who's got the best deals this week? Who has the nicest looking produce? Who has something new that I haven't tried before? All of these details are important. Since I decided to preserve as much as possible this year, it is very important not to over or under purchase produce. It is also very important to pay attention to what's in season and what might not be there next week. This is the first time I have done this and I missed certain seasons out of pure ignorance, simply because there are no seasons at the grocery store. I have learned to pay attention to the finer details. The first peaches to appear at the market were like large rocks in a basket. I waited. Same thing for the apples and corn. Strawberry season has long since passed, yet there are still strawberries for sale. I avoid these. During the few weeks that blueberries were in season, I purchased a few 6L baskets and spent a day washing and freezing them. Once you learn to shop in season, food actually gets cheaper. This Saturday was no different than any other. I purchased large quantities of apples, corn, tomatoes and peaches. Luckily, I had my boyfriend there for the first trip. We got the heavy stuff out of the way and then I returned, empty-handed and ready for my ritual.
On the first time round I passed an older gentleman who, in a thick German accent, asked me if I wanted to buy some of his pears. He looked at me so kindly and asked me so sincerely that it was hard to refuse. I asked him about his pears. They were both local and organic and, most surprisingly, dirt cheap. He was selling a giant box of pears for the low low price of $10!!! Since I had already been home with the larger produce and had just returned for the small stuff, I told him that I would have to get him next week. But Helge was only here this week as the pears were in season now. I'm a country livin' bus kid and my house is a good 25 minute walk from the closest bus stop. There was no way I could carry these pears home. He smiled at me, understanding my dilemma. I said my goodbyes and continued with my morning, besides what was I going to do with a giant box of pears? I spent the next 20 minutes justifying the cost of a cab to myself.
I guess you already know what happened next... Of course, I bought the giant box of pears. He tossed in a 4L basket full of pears ready to eat straightaway. I was now in possession of more pears than I had eaten combined in the past 6 years! Oh my! What was I thinking?
Once home, I plunked the box on the floor and sat down to think. I'd can them... or as many of them as possible. Make a soup... freeze some. We'd have pears all winter.
Tip to future preservers: Don't purchase more than you are capable of doing alone!
I spent a good 8 hours preserving that Saturday. Between the apples that were made into apple sauce and peeled, cored, sliced, blanched and frozen, the corn that was shucked, and the tomatoes that were reduced to a thick and zesty sauce, I barely made a dent in the box of pears. By the end of the day, I had a mere 4 500 ml jars of preserved pears. Since then, some have been pawned off on neighbours, disguised as gifts. Some have been eaten in salads and as snacks. Some were made into a delicious soup. The rest are hidden in the pantry, out of sight but never out of mind. Anyone want some pears?
For anyone who is interested in getting their hands on their own $10 giant box of pears, please send me a message. I did get directions to Helge's farm, as well as his phone number.
Here are some of the things that you can do with pears:

For each 1 L jar, select 2 to 3 lb ripe, mature fruit. Harvest pears when full grown. Store in a cool place until ripe but not soft. Wash, peel, halve and core pears. Place in a colour protection solution. Pears may be packing in water, apple or white grape juice, very light or light syrup.
HOT PACK- Prepare syrup and bring to a boil in large stainless steel saucepan. Drain fruit and place one layer at a time in syrup; return to boil or until fruit is heated through. Pack hot fruit into jars and add hot syrup. Repeat for remaining fruit.
Heat process: 500 ml jars - 20 min.; 1 L jars - 25 mins.; 1.5 L jars - 35 mins.
(Taken from the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving)


Roast pear in 350 degree oven for 20 mins. Peel off skin, if desired. Slice.
Fill a salad bowl with mixed greens. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and crumbled blue cheese. Toss and place roasted pear on top. Drizzle with caramel dressing.


In small dish, mix caramel sauce, olive oil, apple cider vinegar and black pepper until it tastes sweet, but slightly tart. And, yes, there is a 100 mile recipe for caramel sauce. Here is the link for anyone who is interested:


2 tbsp canola oil
2 cups peeled parsnips, sliced
1 cup peeled carrots, sliced
1 lg. onion, diced and sauteed
4 1/2 cups water
2 pears, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
Toss parsnips and carrots in oil and roast in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until soft. Sautee onions. Add roasted veggies and pear. Add water and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Allow soup to boil continuously for quite some time. Take off heat and puree in batches in a blender. Return to pot and stir.
Serve with crumbled blue cheese on top.
(I added vanilla soy to mine to make it a bit creamier and it tasted wonderfully smooth and rich)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Summer Greens, the cure to onset Winter Blues

If you're anything like me, the mere thought of a winter without greens leaves you panicked. Don't panic, there is a solution!!

A few weeks ago, I got the idea in my head that maybe I could grow greens at home. Uncertain if this was even possible, I set out to do some research. When starting any new project I always head out to a bookstore to see if they carry something on the subject. On that day I happened upon Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens by Eric Franks and Jasmine Richardson. It was exactly what I was looking for.

Microgreens first outlines what materials you will need in order to grow greens in the comfort of your own home. Trays, soil, seeds, towels, sprayers, and a pH meter are just a few of the things you will need. I read the book, cover to cover, in one night. My addiction to arugula made me do it!
Next step: purchasing the necessary means to grow greens at home. For this, I spent a good hour on a Saturday afternoon pestering Ryan Hetner at Organic Botanic with a million questions. He patiently answered them, knowledgeably and thoroughly. In the corner of his shop, under rows of grow lights, there were trays of greens (including my prized arugula), living proof that I wasn't just a dreamer. Ryan pointed to different plants, while passing me samples of his greens for tasting. As expected, they were delicious! I promised that I would return after the first of the month, once the boxes in my new country home were all unpacked.
When I returned for my things, I chose 3 packages of seeds; arugula, beets and a spring mix of broccoli, radish, red clover and alfalfa. The seeds are packaged by a company called Mumm's and they are organic. And here lies another 100 mile dilemma; the seeds are packaged in Saskatchewan. I justified buying the seeds because there were no local, organic seeds available for purchase and I will be growing them at home, well within the 100 miles. I am supporting a Canadian organic seed company, as well as a local independent business. Since there are so many criterion to consider here, it is understandable that decisions may be difficult to make. Just do what feels right. As far as I know, there are no 100 mile police out there. I found a PDF online which lists other seed suppliers. If you wish to do further research, here is the link: 
The list does contain a seed company which falls within the 100 miles; Sproutmaster in Elmvale, Ontario. I contacted the owner and asked about the seeds. She told me that the seeds were from all over North America and if I were to include individual seed types, she would happily tell me their origin. Sproutmaster's website is: The email address for Mumm's, should you wish to write them with similar queries, is:
The health benefits of greens cannot be overstated. Arugula, for example, is a readily absorbable source of calcium, iron, manganese, copper and potassium. It is also a good source of vitamins A, C, K and folic acid and it is high in both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. On top of that, arugula is considered to be one of the most potent anti-cancer foods.
I have tried to see how much nutritional value is lost during travel, to no avail. Major fruit and vegetable companies, like Dole, don't provide information on the origins of their products on their website. I have written a letter to them but I don't expect a reply. One can assume that, much like other fruits and vegetables, they are at their nutritional best directly after harvest,and rapidly lose nutritional value soon after. Personally, I like the idea of cutting my greens fresh and consuming them immediately after. I know what kind of soil they were grown in (organic) and that they were not sprayed with chemicals. The pH of my water was tested and modified, allowing for optimum plant growth. The greens I planted mere days ago are happily reaching their little arms to the skies. Every morning they are significantly taller. By the end of this week I will be consuming salad greens that I grew myself. This summer I was buying my greens from Fourfold Farms and Backyard Bounty, both located at the Guelph Farmer's Market. Now I'll be eating them right out of my windowbox. How's that for local?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

100 Mile Beekeeping

On Monday morning I met Mark McAlpine and his wife, Shelly. I met Mark when a friend of mine told me that he had raw, local honey for sale and thought I might be interested in getting my hands on some. Where there is honey, there are bees. Where there are bees, there must be a beekeeper.

I must admit that I knew absolutely nothing about bees but have always been fascinated by them (see Blog #1).So, I contacted Mark and asked if he wouldn't mind showing me his little backyard operation. He readily agreed and I found myself walking there on a nice sunny morning in the prime of honey harvesting time.

Mark and Shelly were instantly likeable. With a cute little house, built in the early 1900's, filled with books and animals, I felt instantly at home. The backyard was an abundance of green which smelt like a fragrant mixture of damp earth and sweet honey. Shelly pointed out where there used to be a compost heap. Now it was a mess of green leaves and giant orange flowers. Her compost heap was sprouting squash and pumpkins! Tomatoes of various shapes and colours grew everywhere. I love a garden with a natural feel. Further back were tables filled with a variety of bonsais in different stages of growth. Bonsais exude a magical presence. I always feel like I'm part of some special secret when I'm around one. Then I saw them, the beehives. The beehives, just to clarify, were not like the ones you see in the Berenstein Bear books or classic Winnie the Pooh tales. What they looked like was a stack of small, wooden sock drawers, piled one on top of the other, like a poorly contructed dresser. But inside those drawers (I think the proper term is 'frames') there were no socks... only honey. Sweet and delicious honey.

Before we could do anything, we had to dress properly for the occasion. I put on what looked like a safari hat, and then pulled over mesh netting which covered my face and shoulders. Apparently bees are drawn to small black dots, much like the pupil of your eye. This is probably because they look like the iris of a flower or an entrance to something. Although I felt no fear, which truly surprised me, I happily donned the beekeepers attire. Mark's bees are Caucasian or Russian bees, and Buckfast bees. There is an interesting Wikipedia article on Buckfast bees and their history, if anyone wants to learn more.
Because it was still early in the morning, the bees were just getting up and making their way out into the world in search of nectar. For this reason, we had to smoke them out. The smoke makes them relax, which makes them easier to handle. With enough of the bees smoked out, it was safe to take a closer look.
Mark held up a plastic tray, called a super, which looks like a prototype of honeycomb. The bees use the super to build small wax cavities called honeycomb. They store their honey in the individual cavities and then seal them off. This is called capping. When a super is fully capped the bees will move up in the hive and fill more. The beekeeper has to be very careful that he does not allow the bees to fill everything, otherwise they will feel cramped and, eventually, they will swarm. Swarming occurs when the hive splits in two to begin another hive. In order to curb this swarming mentality, Mark removes frames from the hive, and replaces them with fresh ones for the bees to fill. This keeps the bees busy and us in honey.
Bees have an extremely interesting social order which, I will admit, I don't completely understand. The bees are reigned over by a queen. The queen is twice the size of the other bees and is the only one in the hive to reproduce. Drone bees (the males) are basically sperm sacks. They are there merely to mate with the queen. Come winter, they are not even allowed in the hive. Females are the worker bees. These are the bees which pollinate our flowers and make honey. They are protected by guard bees (I never asked their sex), who protect them from wasps and invading bees. Bees from other hives will invade if they sense that the hive is vulnerable. A queen bee typically rules the hive for 2-3 years, after which she is switched out for a younger queen by the beekeeper. Worker bees cannot work up to the status of a queen. A queen is simply born a queen. Near the end of her reign, a beekeeper will notice changes in the hive, one being an overproduction of drone bees (those useless sperm sacks!), as well as the underproduction of the valuable worker bees. Since the hive is a working unit which relies heavily on its workers, an overabundance of drones can be detrimental to the survival of the hive. In the winter, bees do not hibernate, but do stay inside the hive. They stay awake, keeping themselves warm by constantly moving. The bees on the outside of the hive will move into the middle, while those in the middle will move outwards, much like the penguins in March of the Penguins. Being innately neat creatures, bees' excrement will not be found in the hive, even after a long winter. The bees will wait until spring to relieve themselves outdoors. A sure sign of spring can be found in the yellow excrement in the snow on a warm spring day.
Bees are fascinating insects and, like many of Mother Earth's creature, they are in danger. Bee populations are under strain due to pesticide use, as well as cell phone towers. I have not read enough on the subject to confidently continue, but will certainly do some reading when I get a chance. Mark did tell me about a bee-related epidemic which occured some 5 years ago, now referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder. There are some interesting articles on Colony Collapse Disorder online, if anyone is interested.
After having a peek in the hive and holding up a super for close inspection, we let the bees get back to work and headed to the screened in porch for the second part of the operation. On the porch there were frames full of supers, fully capped and full of honey. Mark asked me to remove one, which was surprisingly heavy. He took what looked like a cat comb, and gently scraped the top of the caps off. Once the caps were removed, we put the super into a hand-powered honey extractor. I spun the handle, watched the honey fly out of the combs and run down the walls. Next, we poured the honey through a strainer into a large plastic container with a spigot attached to it. The honey was strained one last time through cheesecloth before it slowly filled the 1 L mason jar beneath it.
This was a fascinating and educational morning. I learned a lot from Mark and for this I am extremely grateful. I left with a litre of delicious honey, a container of honeycomb, and a big smile on my face. Mark's bees, for my curious 100 mile diet fans, collect nectar from a 3 mile radius. They're about as local as you can get!

Friday, August 21, 2009

More preserving tips...

Blueberries, Strawberries & Raspberries
Perhaps the easiest to preserve, berries are a delicious treat in the winter. I'm a smoothie junkie, so there are always berries in our freezer.
Wash the berries thoroughly. With blueberries all you need to do is look for the bad ones and pick out the stems. For strawberries, I just cut the tops off altogether. Raspberries are a bit more delicate. Wash under a light spray but don't soak. Soaking raspberries makes them turn to mush really quickly. I always lightly shake the berries in a colander until most of the water comes out. Put them into large freezer bags and remove the excess oxygen from the bag using a straw or, like me, you can just put your mouth to the back and suck the extra air out that way. Probably not the most sanitary of methods but Alex doesn't care...
Freeze and enjoy later!
Beans (Yellow and Green)
Beans are also fairly easy to preserve. Simply wash the beans thoroughly in a colander. Cut off ends and cut into approximately 2 inch pieces. Blanch beans for 3 minutes in boiling water. Remove and rinse under cold water. I freeze mine in 2 person sized portions. Always date label your food; frozen blanched vegetables last up to 12 months in the freezer.
Broccoli, Cauliflower & Carrots
Once again, wash, wash, wash. Cut broccoli and cauliflower into medium sized pieces. Peel and slice carrots. Everyone will have their own method. I filled a bowl with enough mixed veggies for 2 and then blanched them in batches. Blanch for 3 minutes in boiling water and freeze in individual portioned bags or one big bag. Date label. Enjoy!
Bell Peppers (Green, yellow, white and red)
I use bell peppers when I make soup, in stews and in a variety of other ways. I've never frozen them before, but I clearly remember my mother freezing bags of them. She froze them whole and I remember finding them in the bottom of the freezer, crushed and freezer burnt. I thought I'd try something different.
Wash peppers thoroughly. Cut off tops and gut. Cut into rings. I froze them in mixed bags with a few rings of each colour. I still don't know what I'm going to do with them but they make me smile everytime I see them in the freezer. They're bright and cheerful and they're going to be delicious in the middle of the winter.
PS Peppers don't need blanching, just straight freezing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

100 Mile Mel's 100 Mile Disclaimer

I was having breakfast with a friend this morning and we were talking about canning. He playfully mentioned that my colour treatment recipe contained an ingredient which was obviously not from anywhere around here; lemon juice. The syrup I made to keep the apricots and peaches in contains sugar, which may have been refined just down the road in Toronto, but whose main ingredient is definitely imported. We laughed about this over coffee (Yes, coffee!) and then I really thought about it... so I'm writing this disclaimer, lest other, more serious, 1oo-mile dieters come after me.


I am not perfect. I am a work in progress. I did not start this journey in order to practice what I already know. I started this journey in order to learn and share knowledge. I want to know how the honey gets into the honeycomb, and then into the jar. I want to know how flour is milled and what potatoes look like when they're in the ground. There's so much to learn. Most of all, I want to know what I'm putting into my body and where it has come from. Wherever possible, I want to know the people who provide me with what I consume. I'd like to thank them.
So, although there are certain things that I could go without, I don't want to. There, I said it. I don't want to. I want lemons. And olive oil. And vinegars. And coffee.... delicious coffee. And spices from India. I will buy organic wherever possible. I will buy local, wherever possible. I will buy fair trade. But I won't sacrifice everything.
Just for the record, I can be pretty fanatical about something if my interest is piqued. I read so many books on Africa that my poor boyfriend started wincing when I picked up a new one. I knew it was time to move on. I do not want to become one of those patronising, old farts who complains when the rest of the world doesn't jump on the same train that they do. These changes will take time. You might even see me in the grocery store, sneaking around in the produce section, looking desperately at 'fresh' greens. I might even buy them, until I find a way to grow them myself...
Enough said. If you have suggestions, kindly drop me an email and I will consider them. In the meantime, let me enjoy my coffee... :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Preserve Today, Consume Tomorrow

I don't want to alarm you, but winter is just around the corner. If you're considering an attempt at the 100-mile diet, now is the time to prepare, because those winter months can be awfully daunting. Being Canadian means long, cold winters, with little to no fresh produce available. Usually, during the winter months, I would rely on our neighbours to the south for fresh produce, but this year I'm preparing ahead of time so that I can enjoy local, organic produce all winter long.There are a number of different ways you can preserve food; freezing, drying, canning, and pickling. Here is a list of the things that I have preserved this year, so far: Apricots, beans (yellow and green), blueberries, brocolli, carrots, cauliflower, peas, peaches, peppers, pickles, raspberries, soups, strawberries, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Preservation methods for each to follow...


This year I tried my hand at canning and apricots proved to be the easiest to can. I used 500 ml jars, since 1 L seemed too big and 250 ml seemed too small. Apricots will be delicious with some homemade vanilla yogurt in the winter. In case anyone's curious to know, I purchased my apricots at the Guelph Farmers Market for $10 a basket. The apricots were locally grown, and although I clearly remember telling myself that I would not forget the name of the farm that grew them, I have clear forgotten. Sorry.

To begin, wash the apricots thoroughly. Then cut them in half and pit them, but do not peel. Apricots are SO easy to handle. The pit practically falls out of the fruit, and since you don't have to peel them, the process is much easier and less messy.

Place the fruit in a colour protection solution. You can buy this in a sachet from the pickling section of your local grocery store or, like me, you can come up with a DIY home solution. I mix a 1/4 cup of lemon juice per 4 cups of water. This helps preserve the natural colour of the fruit, otherwise they would turn brown during the canning process. I tried to tell myself that I wouldn't actually mind this, but in all honesty, presentation is just as important as flavour. I couldn't proudly serve brown apricots to my friends. :)

Apricots should be preserved in a medium syrup, otherwise they'll be tart. A medium syrup requires more sugar than I've ever used in anything before! Add 3 cups of sugar to 5 cups of water. Bring the solution to a boil and then leave it to barely simmer on the stove. You don't want to boil it too long or the solution will reduce to a thick mixture of sugary goo.

Boil the empty 500 ml jars for about 5-10 mins to remove any bacteria. Pack the jar full of apricots while still hot. Pack apricots on top of each other, cavity side down. I found that the apricots naturally wanted to land on the opposite side than I wanted them to, so I slid them down a knife as a guide. Once the jar is packed full, pour the hot syrup over the top, leaving enough space at the top... about a half inch. Use a wooden spoon (non-metallic kitchen utensil) to gently coax air bubbles out of hiding. Then top with a seal that has been kept in a pot of hot, but not boiling, water. Put on the screw cap, but do not over tighten.

Boil jars in a large pot of water for 25 minutes,

making sure that the water covers the lids. When done, carefully remove without moving contents, towel off excess liquid, and store in a cool, dry place overnnight. Label with contents and date. Boiling times for 1 L jars are 30 mins. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The End of Food by Thomas Pawlick

I recently picked up this book and was SUPER excited about what it might have in store for me. The opening chapter caught my attention right off the get-go. Chapter one was about the tomato. Not the ones you find yourself smelling at the farmer’s market while dreaming of its endless possibilities; rather, the tomato that you find at the supermarket. You know the tomato I’m talking about… the one that looks like all the other ones in the pile. They’re all roughly the same size. They’re very firm. They have no unsightly marks or bruises. When you cut into them, the walls are so thick that the tomato doesn’t even lose its shape. And, finally, there are no fruit flies hovering over them, even on the warmest of days.
That’s how Thomas F. Pawlick caught my attention. I knew exactly which tomatoes he was talking about and I had wondered the very same thing. The chapter goes on to tell you just how those tomatoes got to be so uniform and what sort of nutritional value they offer the consumer (not much). This is followed by stats on other fruits and vegetables. So far, so good. Nothing too shocking here.
The following chapter, however, starts to dig deeper into our factory-like food system. With sections on antibiotics, acrylamide, arsenic, dioxins, bovine growth hormones, genetically modified food stuffs, Mad Cow, pesticides, E. Coli, and other shocking possible food contaminants, this section proves much harder to swallow, so to speak, than the first section. By the end of this chapter I’m afraid to eat anything, lest it grew in my backyard under conditions I had some control over. I found myself hoping that the author would ease up for a bit and inject some humour into his text. That hope did not help me to prepare for the information contained in the following chapters.
The following chapters focused on the damage done to the environment, the manipulation of consumers and farmers by giant corporations, and the kinds of conditions the animals we eat are forced endure before they land on our plate (a particularly rough section for the weaker stomachs).
As a consumer, there are certain things that you think you know, and some of them you even come to accept (ie. pesticide use), and then there are things that are so horrifyingly wrong, that no one wants you to even know about them. Once you do know, however, they are hard to swallow and even more difficult to ignore. I am telling you about this book because I think it contains information that, while difficult to digest, is important for your health, the health of the planet and the future of mankind.
Thomas Pawlick’s text is well researched and fairly well-written. My only criticism (and it’s a BIG one), is that I think it may have the opposite effect than desired. The reader has to wade through 180 pages of shocking details. There is no break, there’s no humour injected to make it easier to handle, and there is no sense of hope. With the solutions being a mere 40 pages long (and still riddled with more depressing facts), a less dedicated person would have put the book down, guilt-free. I found The End of Food to be so overwhelmingly depressing that it took me 2 weeks to read its 256 pages (keeping in mind that 33 of those pages are notes). Twice, I was disturbed to the point of tears, embarrassingly, while at work. If ever I had the opportunity to meet Thomas Pawlick, I would suggest that he put solutions at the end of each section, lest the less hopeful readers give up on both the book, and humanity. That being said, I did learn some new information from Pawlick's research and he did get me to make one major change; I will no longer be spending my hard-earned money on meat from the grocery store. If there is a local farm that supplies hormone-free and anti-biotic meat, from animals who have been fairly treated, I will be paying them a visit soon.

For those of you who have already read books on the food industry, this text might be a tad redundant. For those of you starting out, this book might be a tad too shocking and hopeless. For those of you, like me, somewhere in the middle, you'll find The End of Food to be somewhere in the middle of redundant and informative. A good read, none-the-less.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

St. Jacob's Market

This morning my friend and I took a trip to St. Jacob's market to pick up some local produce, scoop up the last of whatever berries we could find, and check out what else was available. Before going, I wrote a letter to the director of St. Jacob's and asked if there were particular vendors we should be looking out for if we were looking for local and organic. She assured me that, although most of them are not listed as "certified organic," they were indeed organic. The vendors who sell fruit and vegetables at the market must also be growers themselves. She urged me to ask questions, which I did, when necessary.

Eating locally throughout the winter is going to be an interesting adventure, one that I am not sure I am fully prepared for. I'm trying my hand at canning and freezing this year, something I have never attempted before. What this means is LARGE purchases of produce and a lot of work in the kitchen over the weekend. As it is, I have already frozen 5 large bags of blueberries (I found a 6L basket for $20!), 2 large baskets of strawberries, and blanched 5 bags of mixed yellow and green beans. I purchased two baskets of mixed heirloom tomatoes (delicious!), 2 large zucchinis, a bag of mixed wild mushrooms, a large bunch of carrots, a bunch of beets, and 2 boxes of mixed sweet peppers. We checked out some of the local cheese vendors, and ended up with a brick of Gruyere and another of Asiago. I also picked up some local ground beef and beef tenderloin, hormone and anti-biotic free. Finally, I got a large jar of delicious buckwheat honey which was produced in the Saugeen region. All of this for about $80... it sounds like a lot, but it's going to be worth it in the middle of the winter.

St. Jacob's is open on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. There are many, many produce vendors who sell their produce at various prices, so have a look around before you settle. There are cheese vendors, meat counters inside, and bakers. Some vendors sell hand-crafted foods, such as pickles and jams. Others sell hand-crafted items, such as quilts. Check out the quilt shop on the way in. When we went in there were two adorable old ladies quilting upstairs. They informed us that it takes 1000 hours to make one quilt! You can see it in their work though. Every stitch is done by hand and the quilts are beautiful.

If you're looking for somewhere to get your sweet corn and peaches when they're ready, this is the place to go. Enjoy!

Friday, August 7, 2009

One more reason to eat locally...

Somewhere in the middle of June, during peak strawberry season, my co-worker and I were discussing food... something that we do nearly everyday since we're both passionate locavores and environmentalists. We were discussing the ever-tenuous subject of produce sold in chain grocery stores. It seems that, even at the height of Ontario's strawberry season, there are fewer and fewer Canadian berries on the shelves. Whenever I see "Grown in the USA" on the little sticker, I eye it suspiciously and wonder what that really means. Where did this piece of fruit come from? How far did it travel to get here? Were the people who picked it (assuming it was picked by a person) get paid/treated fairly? Were they trying to sell me a genetic science experiement? Why did it look so perfect and uniform? Even though they looked good, did they have any nutritional value? What kinds of chemicals were sprayed on it? What effects did these chemicals have on the environment around them? And what about our health? And why is it, when I pick up this produce, all these thoughts run through my head but none of the answers are ever available? No one knows; they just blindly throw the fruit in their cart, making choices based on aesthetics rather than sound judgement.

After this vehement discussion between my co-worker and I, on Sunday, June 21st, 2009 (just a few days later), right on the Toronto Star's front page, was a picture of a gigantic, perfect-looking strawberry. The article, From California to Ontario: Our love affair with the techno-berry," followed a container of strawberries from the field where they were grown in Watsonville, California, to the home where they were feasted on in Burlington, Ontario. This article is important because it answers all of the questions posed above, and it gives readers one more reason to choose the not-so-perfect looking Ontario strawberry during its season. Beauty is, afterall, only skin deep.

I'm not going to waste my time retyping the article. Instead, I've attached a link, in case you missed it. I knew there was a reason that I eyed those strawberries so suspiciously. This summer, for the first time, I vowed only to buy strawberries (and other berries) from local farmers so I can ask all those questions myself. Please make sure to see my follow-up on Marcy's berries, after I asked what exactly was sprayed on the beautiful raspberries I purchased last week. I should have asked before I bought them.
Check out this video of the strawberry's journey:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Food Inc., the movie

Food Inc. is playing at the Bookshelf Cinema tonight (and tomorrow night), in downtown Guelph at 9 pm. This documentary exposes the bittersweet truth about America's food industry and the protective agencies (the USDA and the FDA) that are supporting it. Featuring interviews with respected authors, such as Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Food Inc. should be on every concerned consumer's must-see movie list. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Summer Berry/Thunderstorm Adventure

I've been whining a lot lately about getting berries before it's too late. I just can't justify spending $13.99 for a large bag of frozen mixed berries at Metro or Zehr's when I don't know where they have come from, I don't know what has been sprayed on them or what has been put in the soil to help them grow, and I don't know how far they've travelled to make it into my smoothie. Furthermore, they all look the same. They're the same size and the same colour. This isn't natural. So, I had the idea that I would find somewhere local that sold berries exactly how I wanted them. They're not cheap, these berries, but they're oh-so-good. I'd almost forgotten what 'real' berries tasted like.
So, when I finished work this evening, Alex and I headed out to chase a storm and stumbled upon a strawberry shaped sign that read "Marcy's Berries", and off we went.
On the Guelph-Wellington Food map, Marcy's Berry's is #55. Located at 747 Valens Rd., Puslinch, it was a bit far for a Tuesday night in a thunderstorm, but I insisted and Alex folded. It was a good 20 minute drive, but we found the stall, just off the side of the road at the Valens townline. After begging Alex to drive me so far for 2 pints of raspberries and some pictures, I didn't have the heart to ask if they sprayed anything on the precious lode. After tasting each type of raspberry carefully, I settled on one and purchased 2 pints at $4.50/pint. I would email the farm this evening to inquire about their practices (which isn't easy to do, by the way). How does one inquire about such things without sounding accusatory? I should note that Marcy's Berries also sold new potatoes, peas and jams.
I felt guilty that we had driven so far for 2 pints of raspberries. I was just beginning to think of myself as the Carbon Bigfoot of Guelph, when I thought that maybe the trip wouldn't be such a waste if we made some more stops in the area. After looking at the map, I noticed #58, sort of on the way home, at the Flamborough-Puslinch townline. According to the Eat Local Map, Tigchelaar Apples and Berries has a farm gate stall that is self-serve and open all hours. I love these little stands and I love driving in thunderstorms. After another 15 minutes of driving, we located the farm. Much to our dismay, there was no gate stall and it was not open all hours. There was a sign that listed hours of operation. A little dejected, we headed home.
I still really, really want to find somewhere to purchase a ton of berries, enough to freeze for the winter. If anyone has any suggestions for me, please comment here.

Small sacrifices?

I lay there late last night, thinking about sacrifices. What would I be sacrificing if I fully committed myself to the 100 Mile Diet? You see, I'm still weighing out the pros and the cons. I nudged my boyfriend in his sleep. "Maybe we could make a rule that we only have to follow the 100 Mile rule if it's something that's available within those 100 miles. Maybe, just maybe, we don't have to give up everything," I whispered. He mumbled something inaudible, a motion of support for whatever I was rambling on about... but does that make sense? Or would that be cheating before I even started?

Here's a few of the things that I don't know how I'd live without:
olive oil
soy milk

If anyone has any ideas, please post them here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Baby steps...

In order to get more information about what's out there in the 100 mile radius, I decided to spend today contacting local businesses and farms, requesting information about what they do and how they do it. I'm hoping to get the opportunity to meet some of these people in person. I'd like to learn just how organic farmers keep pests off their plants. My basil looks more like swiss cheese than the fragrant, leafy herb it's supposed to look like. I'd like to try my hand at beekeeping and see honey that's still in its comb. And I've always wanted to learn more about wild mushrooms.
Here's a short list of the one's I'm most excited about visiting:
Hawkin's Honey
Arva Flour Mill
Grimo Nut Nursery
Wylie Mycological Ltd.
Greenfield's Organic Farm

In the meantime, I'm waiting for responses so we can begin the 100 Mile journey....
See you soon.