Monday, November 8, 2010

Winter Soups, Part III - Apple and Butternut Squash Soup

This weekend at the farmers market the stands were bursting with squash of all varieties and they were going cheap. I only grew acorn squash and patty pan squash this summer, but I wish I'd grown butternut squash because it's perfect for soups. No worries - there were a ton at the market to choose from. And what better to do with them than make a hearty soup and freeze it for the cold, wintery days to come. I plan on getting a pair of cross country skis and snowshoes this winter, provided there's enough snow, and have big plans for a soup lunch outdoors. Years ago I bought a Trangia - an ultralight, outdoor stove of sorts that burns alcohol-based fuel. It is quite honestly one of the most amazing things I have ever purchased. It's small, light enough to throw in a backpack and super easy to use. I suppose I could just put the soup in a Thermos, but this is much more romantic. This Apple and Butternut Squash soup is going to be perfect on one of those cross country skiing adventures and I can't wait. I made this soup from scratch without a recipe and if I do say so myself, it is darn delicious! I hope you enjoy it too.

Apple & Butternut Squash Soup

2 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
3 small onions, chopped
1 tbsp butter
4 celery sticks, diced
4 large apples, peeled, cored and chopped
6 cups of chicken stock
1/4 tsp fresh ground peper
dash of nutmeg
dash of allspice
3/4-1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup apple cider
8 pieces of bacon, cooked and chopped into chunks

Melt butter in large stock pot. Add celery and onion, cook until soft. Pour in 6 cups of chicken stock (or veggie). Stir.
Add spices and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add chopped butternut squash and apple. Lower heat to medium and boil for approximately 10 minutes or until squash and apple are soft. Continue to stir often. Remove from heat and puree in batches in blender. Return soup to pot and add apple cider. Add salt and pepper to taste. Finally, add cooked bacon chunks and simmer for a few minutes.

Serve with mature white cheddar cheese shavings as garnish and crusty bread on the side.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Winter Soups, Part II: Potato & Leek Soup

I had this soup two nights ago and it is amazing! Perfect for those cold, wintry nights.
Locally, I can get potatoes and leeks at the farmers' market - for those of you in the area, there is a lady who sells leeks, onions, garlic and potatoes in the market. She is located just past the donut making machine and the Planet Bean coffee stand. Everything you need for this soup is available there. I also add bacon chunks to my soup to make it richer tasting. Bacon goes with anything, really. I prefer thicker bacon for soup - you can find it at one of the meat vendors at the market. If you're as lucky as I am, you have Hutterite and Mennonite connections. They truly make the greatest bacon.
This soup freezes really well, so be sure to use those plastic containers you've been saving. When you thaw and reheat it, add either stock or water to reduce its thickness. Leek & Potato soup goes well with a nice crusty bread. Enjoy!

Creamy Leek & Potato Soup

Melt in soup pot over low heat:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, or 1 tablespoon butter & 1/4 cup water
Add and cook until soft, but not brown:
8 large leeks (white part only), clean thoroughly and chopped
Stir in:
3 medium or two large potatoes (I leave the skins on and puree them into the soup)
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft. This takes about 30 minutes. Puree until smooth and return soup to pot.
Season with:
Salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Thin, if necessary.

If you are adding bacon, cook slightly beforehand to remove excess fat. Chop into large chunks and add to the soup after you have pureed it. If you prefer a chunkier soup, as I do, Puree only 75% of the soup, leaving the rest in big pieces. If freezing, make sure to label the type of soup and date frozen. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Winter Soups, Part I: Cream of Carrot Soup

At this time of year there are so many fall vegetables available locally that's it difficult to know what to do with them all. If you have a root cellar or cold room you could always store them away for the winter, but most people just aren't that lucky. What do I do with my extra veggies? Well, I make them into soup!

I was raised in a save-it-for-later-use kind of family, meaning we saved everything. From slightly used tin foil to old egg cartons to yogurt containers, our cupboards were full of save-it-for-later junk. I inherited this little trait from my mother, but I've toned it down a few notches. I try not to have a drawer bursting with used tin foil, but I definitely have a cupboard full of plastic yogurt containers and I strongly urge others to follow my lead. These handy little containers make the perfect vessel for freezing batches of soup. One container feeds two people.
In this next series of posts I am going to share a number of fall recipes perfect for the cold, lazy days of winter. These soups go really well with home baked crusty artisan bread and a mixed green salad - and they're healthy to boot. My first offering is one of the most delicious soups I have ever tasted and it comes from The Joy of Cooking - a cookbook that keeps on giving. I grew my own carrots this year; three varieties of organic, heirloom carrots. I even grew rainbow carrots. And I turned them all into soup!

Cream of Carrot Soup

Heat in a soup pot over medium-low heat until the butter is melted:
1/4 cup water or stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)
Add and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned, 5 to 10 minutes:
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Stir in:
4 cups stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 pounds chopped carrots
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the carrots are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Puree until smooth. Return to the pot and stir in:
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream, half-and-half, milk, or soy milk
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white or black pepper
Simmer briefly and ladle into warmed bowls. Garnish with:
Chopped fresh parsley, snipped fresh dill, chives or cilantro

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wanted: Women Hunters & Gatherers to Share their Stories

Recently, I have gone on a number of hunter/gatherer adventures to seek out new sources of sustinance. Since I have vowed to remove myself from the factory farming grid I have had a lot of time to rethink where and how I get my meat. And I'm not the only one... I have heard from many women who have either tried hunting or are interested in trying. Are you one of those women? I would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts here.
Do you hunt/trap/fish? If so, what do you hunt/trap/fish? Where and by what methods?
What were your thoughts on hunting 5 years ago? What are they now? Has your idea of hunting, etc changed over time? If so, why? Include as many details as possible. If you do not want to post your comments in this public forum, please feel free to email your thoughts at:
I look forward to hearing your stories.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hunters are Locavores too, Part III - The Duck Hunt

After our early morning goose hunt and a hearty breakfast, my brothers and I headed back to the house. On the drive home we were talking about the excitement of the morning when something caught my brother's eye and in his excitement, he nearly swerved off the road. "Ducks!" he yelled excitedly. I didn't get it. Yeah, so. There are ducks everywhere. Apparently, in Manitaba there aren't. I looked out into the farmer's field of corn, a rarity  in these parts, and sure enough there were ducks. Huge flocks were flying about and landing in an unseen area in the middle of the field. My brother pulled over and stared into his binoculars in awe. He informed me that ducks are really hard to find around there, even though their numbers are at a record high. He was very excited. Duck hunting was quite possibly his favourite type of hunting. Hannah lifted her little head, exhausted, and looked up to see what was going on. If all went well, this was going to be a big day for her. We continued on home while my brother called his duck hunting buddy to let him in on the excitement.
It was decided that while two of the guys cleaned the geese we got that morning my brother and I would drive out to the farm and ask the farmer for permission to hunt his field. Manitoba farmers are used to being approached by farmers and some even charge a fee for access to their property. When we arrived there were a group of men chatting around a tractor. My brother got out and spoke to them. I could see the one guy shaking his head, but my brother persisted. Moments later, he climbed back into the truck and smiled. He'd told the farmer that it was a family thing that we tried to do together and since it was Thanksgiving he'd be helping us keep our family tradition. The farmer yielded, but said that we could only walk in with our gear and had to clean up after ourselves. The fields were wet and he wasn't sure where the duck hole was, but he didn't want trucks tearing holes into his field. This meant a 1-2 mile hike through neck-high corn and possible marsh. Were we interested? Hell ya!
An hour or so later we returned. This time there were six of us and Hannah; four hunting and two watching. We trekked one after the other through the field. The sun was really warm that day, uncharacteristicly warm for Manitaba. There had been a lot of rain that summer - record highs, I believe - this was evident in the middle of the corn field. The soil between the rows was wet for the first half of the walk, until suddenly it was closer to marsh than cornfield. Birds of all kinds flew in and out of small marshes. We looked for the biggest one and set up camp. The boys put out a couple of decoys called "flyers" since they had motorized wings that made them look like actual birds coming in for a landing. My brother hid deep within the corn and started to call. If I'd thought he was good on the goose call, his duck calling skills blew me away. He sounded just like a duck in the marsh. There was no action for a while, but as the sun lowered toward the horizon the ducks began flying in in droves. My brother called while the other guys stood poised with their shotguns. My brother's wife and I sat on overturned pails and ate sunflower seeds in silence. As they came in they fired at the ones nearest them, watched where they dropped and waited for Hannah to return them to their sides. Hannah was in duck heaven. For a retriever, this is as good as it gets.
By the time the sun went down the boys had filled the day's numbers and it was time to call it a day. We gathered up all of the birds, the spent shells and made our way back to the trucks. As we walked it got darker and darker. By the time we reached the trucks we were faceless behind the lights of our Petzl headlamps. It had been a good day. Hannah curled up in the back of the truck, exhausted. To end the Thanksgiving festivities, we planned a wild dinner and a bonfire. That night, around the fire, we talked about wildlife and our love of the outdoors, while sharing a truly wild meal of walleye fish we'd caught that weekend, duck hor d'oeuvres, pulled slow-roasted goose and leftover moose roast. It was truly one of the most amazing Thanksgiving's I've had in years.

Duck Hor D'Oeuvres
These tasty bits need to be planned ahead as they need time to marinate.

4 duck breasts, cleaned & cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Marinate duck breast cubes for 1-2 days in a marinade of your choice.
Wrap duck in bacon (we purchased our from the Hutterite colony next door), bits of vegetables of your choice, and hold together with a toothpick.
Place on the highest rack and BBQ on low until the bacon is done. Alternatively, if you don't have use of a BBQ, you can roast them in the oven. Roast them in a pan with slots for the bacon grease to run out.
Don't expect these hor d'oeuvres to last long! They're a delicacy around our house.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Homemade Basil Pesto

I have always loved pesto and recently discovered that it is ridiculously easy to make at home. The ingredients are simple and can be mostly be found locally. Pesto sauce requires the following ingredients: fresh basil, grated parmesaan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts (or walnuts) and fresh garlic.
In anticipation of making pesto, I purchased two large bunches of basil from the farmers' market yesterday. When I mentioned my plans for the day to a good friend she asked if I made my pesto with Parmesaan cheese. I nodded. "Then you'd better come downstairs with me," she said with a smile. I followed my friend to the basement where she and her husband kept a second fridge for storage. From somewhere inside she produced an enormous piece of cheese that I knew had come directly from Italy. Her husband's side of the family was entirely Italian and returned to their home country quite often. Apparently, you can bring up to 40 pounds of cheese back in your suitcase. I gratiously accepted her generous offer and watched as she sliced a large piece off the wedge and stuffed it into a bag.
Once I was back home I was excited to begin. I hauled out the bigger of my two food processors and all of the ingredients. The garlic I'd bought from Uphill Farm on the Wellington County Rural Romp would be perfect for this pesto. The only non-local ingredient (aside from the cheese) was the olive oil, but since there is no such thing as local olive oil, I don't worry about that. Finally, I got out the nuts I had purchased. I used a combination of pine nuts and walnuts, since pine nuts are ridiculously expensive. Local walnuts are available from Grimo Nut Nursery on Niagara-on-the-Lake. I have never been to the nursery itself (but I'm hoping to go there in the next couple of weeks), but you can order a variety of nuts through the mail.
Pesto keeps fresh for up to a week in the fridge, but who wants to eat all that delicious pesto in a rush? I decided that rather than preserve the pesto in jars and then be forced to eat it quickly, I would freeze it in ice cube trays and pull out a few whenever I wanted to. Here's the recipe I used for my pesto. I tried it last night and it was a hit!

Homemade Pesto
2 cups of fresh basil, packed
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesaan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tbsp pine nuts (or walnuts)
3 cloves garlic, finely minced

Chop basil leaves in a food processor. Add about 1/3 the nuts and garlic and blend again. Add about 1/3 of the Parmesaan cheese. Slowly blend while adding about 1/3 of the olive oil. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the food processor so everything gets mixed in well. The pesto will become a thick, smooth paste. Serve with pasta, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, and crusty bread.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cleaning out the cupboards

In the past couple of days weird things have happened - all related, but unrelated. On Wednesday, I received a message on my blog from a reporter at the Globe and Mail. She's writing profiles of people who she refers to as "industrial food drop-outs." Interesting. She called me and asked a number of questions about my food choices, why I choose to eat locally and where I get my groceries. Apparently, she had found my blog and liked it. That was nice to hear.

That same day I received a telephone call from someone at OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs). She had also read my blog and was following me on Twitter. A group of videographers are putting together a piece on the local food movement for their website. They wanted to ask me about my food choices, what eating locally means to me and where I get my groceries. Interesting. They're set to come to my house sometime next week to check out my cupboards, my fridge and my freezer in the basement.

If that wasn't enough, the next morning I get a message from Sarah Elton, author of Locavore, asking me about my urban (rural) root cellar. She's writing a piece for the Globe and Mail and I had responded to one of her questions on Twitter.

All this local food interest got me thinking - are my cupboards, fridge, freezer and root cellar presentable? Am I who I say I am? Or, am I living a lie? It's true that for a while I was so hardcore local that I felt overwhelmingly guilty when I even bought a lemon. Since then, though, I've let some things slide. I don't think that they expect everything in my cupboard to be local, but maybe they do. So, I decided to do a little kitchen overhaul - clean out my cupboards, so to speak. And here's what I found:

There is a LOT of stuff in my cupboards. A lot of food I'd been given by a friend's mom who moved away. Things like rice, rice, pasta and rice. None of it local. None of it organic. My baking cupboard is bursting with packages of sugar, graham cracker crumbs, bread crumbs, herbs, spices, flour, bran, etc. Some are local. Some are organic. Some was even grown by me. But most of it was not. There is much work to be done in the dried goods department. The cereals are all organic, the flour is local, as are the peanut butter and honey jars. I even have organic, local rainbow popcorn in there. But what about the oils, vinegars, boullion cubes, and spices? Could I do without those?

Then I opened my fridge. The condiments looked guilty. How did these things make their way into my fridge and did I actually ever use any of them? Not really. The fruits and vegetables in my fridge, however, were all purchased at the Guelph Farmers' Market,  making them 100% local and almost 100% organic. Not too bad.

My freezer is another story altogether. I am quite proud of my freezer. There is not a single company logo in my freezer and it's full! Yay! I don't have to clean the freezer out. It is filled with bags of local blueberries, strawberries, apples, peaches, and nectarines. There are packages of vegetables preserved from my garden. The meat is either wild game (duck, goose, deer, and fish) from Manitoba, meat I've purchased from the Hutterites, or meat from Magda Farm. Three cheers for the freezer!!! 100% local. There are about 40 old yogurt containers filled with homemade soups of every kind. Those soups were made with ingredients that I either grew myself or purchased from the Farmers' Market. Now that is something to be proud of.

Finally, my pride and joy - the canned goods cupboards. Every summer I can just about anything you can keep in jars. One look in my cupboards had me grinning from ear to ear. Brightly coloured jars of pickles, asparagus, tomato sauce, apricots, peaches, pears, beets, hot peppers and roasted red peppers line the shelves.

Yes, there are some things in my cupboards that I'm not so proud of, but a thorough investigation of them all proved that there was much that I could be proud of. Bring on the cameras OMAFRA, my cupboards are clean!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hunters are Locavores, too: Part II - Goose Hunting

At 5:30 am on Thanksgiving Monday morning, my alarm rudely awoke me and told me it was time to get into my gear. It was so early - there wasn't even a hint of light in the sky. My brothers were already in the kitchen, snacking on goose pepperettes and drinking coffee, when I poked my way into the kitchen. My eyes reluctantly opened as I pulled on the camoflauge gear they'd given me and sipped on the hot coffee my brother had made. Within 10 minutes we were piled into the truck and heading off to the field we'd scouted the day before. This was the morning of my first goose hunting trip and even though I was extremely tired, I was more than a little excited. Hannah, my brother's little black lab, lay sleeping on the back seat of the truck. She was going to have a busy day. As we drove in silence, I stared out the window. To the north, aurora borealis danced across the starlit sky. It was the most perfect morning for the hunt.
The field we'd scouted belonged to a farmer whose land was just outside the perimeter of Winnipeg - closer to the city than the boys would have liked. We parked on the side of the road and loaded the quad with our gear by the light of our headlamps. A heavy fog had settled over the land which we silently hoped would lift before the arrival of the birds. When everything was loaded up, we all piled onto the quad and drove out over the foggy field. Hunting laws say that you can't start until 30 minutes before sun-up. That gave us about 30 minutes to pick our spot, lay out about 100 decoys and lie in wait. It was going to be tight.
The boys picked a spot with a windbreak on one side where I could safely hide in the scrub and watch. I had opted not to hunt this time since my training with firearms was extremely limited. Hunting geese requires enough skill that I felt it would be more dangerous than anything. Together we laid the goose decoys, approximately 100 of them, strategically around the field. In the soft light of dawn they looked real, even to my eyes. Once the field was staged, I went off to the field to sit on an overturned bucket, hidden beneath layers of camo, and waited for the arrival of the geese.
It didn't take long. As the fog slowly lifted and the stars gave way to the sun the honks of the geese could be heard in the distance. My brothers lay quietly in their blinds, guns poised, with Hannah by their side. Goose blinds look like camoflauge sleeping bags. Hunters lie in them to hide their shape. If the geese see them they just won't land. My brothers tell me that some geese are smarter than others and some days they're alert, other days they're oblivious.
From inside his blind, my brother called the geese in. He practices his goose call like a avid musician and he's exceptionally good at what he does. I've seen flocks that threatened to fly outside of their line of site change directions because of his call. It was incredible to watch.
When the geese fly directly overhead, the boys pop out of their blinds, guns in the air, and shoot. When the birds drop to the ground Hannah takes off at top speed and grabs them in her mouth. She has been trained to retrieve birds by following commands through a series of whistles and hand signals. She's amazing to watch. She'll bring back a bird whose body is close to the same size as hers, wings beating her in the face as she runs. My brother snatches up the bird, twists its neck so that it doesn't suffer any longer, and places it on the ground next to the blind. Hannah sits attentively awaiting her next task.
Goose and duck populations are at an all-time high so if you're worried about their numbers, you shouldn't be. They are, in fact, considered vermin in some places. A licensed goose hunter in Manitoba is allowed to shoot up to 6 geese per day. There are hundreds of thousands of geese in the Manitoba at this time of year, so filling this number wasn't difficult. Ducks Unlimited supports these hunts because they help control numbers, educate people about conservationism and promote a healthy respect for wildlife. There are currently programs for women hunters available through Ducks Unlimited and I am seriously considering joining. I just need to get my hunter safety.

When their tags were filled a few hours later, we packed up all the gear, said a quick thank you to the farmer who had let us hunt his land, and headed into town for breakfast. The geese would be cleaned later and cooked up for dinner. I couldn't wait to try my brother's famous slow-cooked goose breasts.
I've posted a little video of the goose hunt, taken from my iPhone. I hope you enjoy it!

Stay tuned for my another blog in the "Hunters are Locavores, too" series. Next: duck hunting

Slow-cooked goose breast
Clean and place two large goose breasts in a marinade of your choice for several hours or overnight. Slow-cook on low for a good eight hours. Once done, the goose will pull apart like pulled pork. You can eat it on sandwiches or on its own. Wild goose meat is red in colour and has a full-bodied flavour. It goes well with herb flavoured brown and wild rice, corn on the cob and any of the fall vegetables. An apple flavoured dessert really compliments this meal, as does a nice bottle of red wine. Bon appetit!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Walmart: Supporting local farms & regional economies?

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, is probably best known for its history of effectively crippling local economies. So, its announcement to support the sustainable, local food movement comes as a huge surprise. The first three articles I read online had me literally scoffing out loud. But, given the sheer size of the corporation, any positive changes it makes could lead to widespread results. The question is, will all of the results be positive?
Here are some of the changes that Walmart has proposed:
  • Walmart plans to double the amount of locally grown produce it sells by the end of 2015 (reaching  a level of 9% in US stores)
  • They plan to sell $1 billion in food produced by 1 million small and medium sized farmers by the end of 2015
  • They expect to raise the income of local farmers by 10-15% 
  • They have promised to provide training to 1 million farmers and farm workers, providing education in areas such as crop rotation and sustainable practices (they estimate 50% of those educated will be women)
  • They plan to encourage the production of more food using fewers resources, while producing less waste (why doesn't this practice apply to ALL farmers they purchase from, local or not?)
  • Walmart says they will now ask suppliers about the water, energy, fertilizer and pesticide use per unit of food (but will they supply those details to consumers?)
  • They also plan to focus on the two major contributors to global deforestation: palm oil and beef production (promising to purchase & use products from those who use sustainable practices)
  • Even more ambitious are the numbers for Canada - Walmart plans to boost local food numbers to 30% by the end of 2013
  • Walmart hopes to encourage local farmers to return to growing fruits and vegetables that used to grow in that region, ie. more heritage varieties ( How will the-lord-over-all-that-grows, Monsanto, feel about these *coff* heritage seeds?)
The questions this announcement doesn't address is whether or not the use of GM foods will be allowed and whether or not customers will be privy to the information collected by Walmart. It's all well and good to say that you are going to ask someone about their practices. It's another thing altogether to act responsibly on those answers. I'd really like to know what Walmart considers sustainable and whether or not an annual income increase of 10-15% is really considered enough. What kind of hidden costs are involved in signing a contract of this magnitude with Walmart? And, what will Monsanto have to say about the use of 'heritage' seeds? Call me skeptical, but their plans sound too good to be true.
Even though I'll still never shop at Walmart, I'm giving them half a thumb up for effort. Any change affected by such a huge corporation is bound to go far. There are plenty of people who shop regularly at Walmart so there is huge potential for good here... but, if you're anything like me you're thinking "What's the catch?"
Your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Foraging for Mushrooms

To me, the word 'forage' usually conjures up images of forests, walking sticks and wicker baskets. It also implies searching at great length and possibly coming up empty-handed. There are no guarantees in foraging. So, when I decided to 'forage' for wild mushrooms around the property I thought it would have involved more work. Lucky for me I could see the treasures - giant puff-balls - from the comfort of my kitchen. Not much of a mushroom foraging expedition, if you ask me.

The giant puff-ball is quite the spectacle, as far as mushrooms go. The fruit body can range from 5-80 cm across, although ones of much larger proportions have been recorded.

You should only pick specimens when they are young and white in colour. Tap the top of the mushroom and listen for a hollow sound. You can check its age by cutting through; the knife should pass through crisply, without tearing the flesh. If the outer wall breaks away to expose spore mass it will turn yellow in colour. Do not eat puff-balls that are in this stage.

Giant puff-balls grow in pastures and woodlands from early summer through to late autumn, although if the weather is very dry they will not grow at all. If you're lucky enough to find a giant puff-ball chances are there will be many others nearby. They grow in the same place year after year, so be sure to keep track of where you find the fruit.

Since there is no satisfactory way to store puff-balls it is recommended that you consume them within 3 days. They can be stored in the fridge, provided they are wrapped in plastic wrap. Likewise, they can be cooked into dishes and frozen for later consumption.

Before eating, wipe the mushroom clean with a damp cloth and slice into pieces. Puff-balls work extremely well in all mushroom dishes, particularly soups and stews. You can also fry them up with eggs and bacon or dip them in beaten eggs and breadcrumbs and lightly fry in bacon fat.

If you are uncertain about a species of mushroom DO NOT EAT IT. Quite often edible wild mushrooms have a poisonous sister mushroom that can cause either extreme discomfort or death. Do careful research and ask an expert if you're uncertain. It should be noted that the giant puff-ball does not have a poisonous twin sister and is easily identifiable.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hunters are locavores, too: Part 1

In my neck of the woods the mere mention of hunting is met with looks of disgust and disbelief. How could anyone kill an innocent animal for food?

I grew up in Manitoba, a hunter's daughter with a big heart. I felt sorry for everything that died by my father's hands and held private funerals for them when he wasn't looking. Silly, I know, but I was a sensitive kid.

As I grew up I got used to the sight of dead animals and blood, and although I would eat wild meat, I never joined the family hunts. My brothers have made a living off of hunting. They own their own outfitting companies and when they're not running their businesses, they're guiding for someone else's. My dad has designed and manufactured a muzzleloader bullet that “kills on contact.” He was so disturbed by the suffering of animals that he vowed not to hunt until he could produce a more accurate bullet.

When I tell my friends here in Ontario about my family in Manitoba it's like telling them that I'm related to Charles Manson. Immediately following the looks of disbelief, come the questions and speeches and unsolicited opinions. People often assume that hunters are gun-toting hillbillies who kill merely out of sport and do not respect nature. This couldn't be further from the truth.

This spring I decided to join my brother for the Manitoba spring bear hunt. I'd heard all the stories but had never joined him in the bush. I didn't go to actually kill anything since I am untrained in firearms safety, have barely shot a gun and do not possess a hunting license. I went merely to observe. Bear hunting required full camo - face, hands, everything – Scent Lok clothing and a pair of hip-waders. The bush behind my brother's house in rural Manitoba looks like rainforest in some spots and the area we hunted was like nothing I had ever seen before. I walked a 1/2 mile through swamp and moss up to my knees. Mosquito swarms were as thick as Hamilton smog on a hot day and they were hungry. Moss clung to trees like dirty laundry thrown haphazardly in the wind. The sun shone down hard. Sweat ran down my back in streams. Or, were those wood ticks? I couldn’t tell anymore. When we arrived at the clearing, my brother pointed to a tall, almost-dead conifer tree. It had a zillion branches coming out every which way and he instructed me to climb it. I looked at him incredulously. Climb? In hip-waders? Most hunters would have used screw-in metal steps, but my brother wasn’t most anything. The old sibling rival in me accepted the challenge knowing that if I made a fuss I’d never be invited out again. As ridiculous as it sounds, being invited was a huge honour and I didn’t want to screw it up. Impressively, I quickly and quietly climbed some 20 feet up the tree.

My brother had advised me not to speak, lest I scare the bears away. So, I sat in the tree stand above my brother's and silently swatted at the 'skitters' that tried to settle on my face. I barely breathed as I stared into the clearing below. The first hour dragged. I must admit, I’m not very good at keeping quiet. When we used to play ‘Who can be the quietest for the longest?’ I always lost. I was dying for a book, Twitter updates, Facebook, a crossword - anything to occupy my brain. All I could think about were the zillions of things I could have been doing if only I weren't sitting up there in that stupid tree. How city kid of me.

After a while the noise in my brain started to settle. I stopped worrying and started taking in my surroundings. Soon, all thoughts disappeared and, as corny as it sounds, I became one with my surroundings. It's honestly the closest I've ever come to meditation.

Our camouflage outfits had been washed to remove all trace of human scent. Under the surface layer of camo, we were wearing a layer of Scent-Lok clothing to lock in any body odour. The layers seriously contributed to the sweat that I could feel trickling unfemininely down my back.

Nature continued its course, unaware of our presence. Birds flew in and landed on branches just feet away from my face. Squirrels made strange noises, chattering noisily in argument for hours. By the time the bears lumbered into the clearing in search of food, hungry after a winter of fasting, I had almost forgotten why we were there. They routed around, scratched their bony bums on trees, and snacked on scraps of food left on the ground and lucky me, I got to watch it all from the comfort of my tree stand.

My brother and I sat in that tree for over 5 hours without saying a word. He never raised his bow once, although the opportunity had been there. As a nature lover, it was, perhaps, the most beautiful five hours of my life. I felt extremely privileged for having been there.

When we got back to the house, my brother’s wife asked how the hunt had gone. I laughed. “I guess I can’t really count this as a hunting trip since we didn’t kill anything,” I responded. “Of course you can,” my brother insisted. “What do you think hunting is all about?” What did I think hunting was all about?

My brother offered me a beer and we sat around a bonfire talking about all we’d seen that day. We laughed at the chattering squirrels and looked up the birds we'd observed. I commented on the condition of the tree we’d sat in, the swamp we’d hiked through, and my frustration with the mosquitoes and wood ticks. At one time there had been five bears circling underneath our tree. We had been particularly entertained by the bear that had spent at least twenty minutes scratching his bum on a tree stump. We dubbed him “B-squared, or bald bum.” Weeks later my brother would text me to tell me that B-squared had been under his tree again.

Since I vowed never to eat factory farmed meat again, I have re-evaluated my stand on hunting. Hunting is natural and has been a part of life for as long as we have. What isn't natural is factory farming. My vow to eat local, organic meat from animals that have lived a long and happy life hasn't been easy to honour, given the options. But, how much more local, organic and fairly treated can you get than animals that have eaten only what Nature has provided and have wandered free all their lives? Hunters have a deep understanding and profound respect for nature - more so than many of the city people I know. The way I see it, hunters are locavores too.
Stay tuned for more in the Hunters are locavores, too series.

The Versatile Blogger Award

A while ago I was given the Versatile Blogger Award by a fellow blogger, Kim Meier. I am flattered and honoured that she chose me and my blog - Thank you, Kim!
Kim writes a blog entitled, "Gardening. Cooking. Eating. Discovering. Sharing. Ottawa". It is honest, fun and informative. She recently posted ab blog about smoked tomatoes - just one more thing I can do with all those tomatoes I grew this year.
So, here's how it works: First, I thank Kim for giving me this award. Then, I pass the award on to another deserving blogger.
There is no doubt in my mind who I am choosing: Kelly (last name unknown) who writes Eat Local London. Check out her frequently updated blog for tidbits on local food in the London, Ontario region. She visits local farms, tries new foods and even grows her own. Since she's been at this for a while, there's a lot there to read. Eat Local London is informative, entertaining and inciteful. Personally, it's my favourite blog to read. Enjoy!
Other blogs I enjoy:
Sheryl Kirby's Serious Eats
Sarah Elton's The Locavore
Beer and Butter Tarts
Kristen Glasbergen's Peace, Love and Muesli
Joel Solish's The Community Foodist

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lard or shortening?

Growing up in the '80s meant that my parents held a mixture of old family values and new-fangled ideals. These rifts and divisions were most evident in the kitchen where ounces became grams and lard became shortening.While my mom's mom used lard, my mom herself never did. She was of the 'heart-friendly generation' and vegetable bi-products were all the rage. Well into the 21st century we may have swapped imperial for metric, but the debate between lard and shortening is still raging. I've read arguments that go both ways. Some say animal fat is responsible for clogged arteries and heart disease. Others argue that it's the only way to go. Personally, I'm on the fence.

My mom's mom was infamous for her pie crusts. According to my mom, they never failed. When I was old enough to reach the counter I was allowed in on the secret recipe, although at that time I think I was more excited about the rolling pin than any secret recipe. When I finally got my own copy in my mom's handwriting the mix of family values was ever-present. The first thing the recipe called for was a 1/2 lb of lard or shortening. I'm pretty sure my mom wrote the "or shortening" part. She left in the "1/2 lb" part, though.

By the time I got the recipe I found it confusing. Ummm, what is lard and just where do I find it? Never mind that, how do I measure pounds? The package of shortening was always measured in grams.

So, needless to say, when I went to Magda Farm this weekend to pick up my family box of fairly and ethically raised pork, I wasn't overly enthusiastic when I was offered a free bucket of pig's lard. What on earth would I do with it? The answer: make pie!

I stared at the bucket for a few days, finally working up the nerve to open it. It smelled faintly of bacon, a smell that normally made me very happy. But pie isn't supposed to smell like bacon. I looked at it skeptically but, since I had promised Vera Top (of Magda Farm) to give it a try and report back, I carefully spooned the soft fat into a large bowl. Placing the bowl on the scale, I measured out a 1/2 pound. The dough itself was much more pliable and easy to work with than what I was used to. I hoped that the pie wouldn't taste like bacon, though.
While the pie (delicious blueberry!) was baking in the oven, I sat down to my computer to do a little research. I had recently read that lard was winning the health debate. I'm not surprised - shortening is a vegetable bi-product, mostly made of corn, and some 90% of corn is genetically modified, designed and patented by evil Monsanto. Wherever possible I eliminate support of Monsanto and genetically modified foods, so I was willing to give Vera's lard a try. Her pigs had led a happy life. They were free to run and wallow in the mud. They ate non-GMO pig feed, routed for grubs and whatever delicious little treats pigs find in the mud. The scraps she fed them came from restaurants like Borealis in Guelph. Most of their food is locally sourced and ethically raised. How could I say no to such a gift?
An hour later I removed the pie from the oven. The crust was glossy and light brown in colour. I sniffed at it expecting bacon. Nothing. It smelled like blueberry pie. Delicious blueberry pie.
So, if you're in the market for locally and ethically raised pig's lard, I know just where you can get some. The pie was amazing and the crust was light and fluffy! My mom would have been proud.
Click here for more info on Magda Farm.

For more on the lard vs shortening debate, please see these links:

I'm interested in your comments. What do you think about the lard vs shortening debate?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rain rain, go away...

Every day I pop up to the garden to see if my highly coveted tomatoes have started to ripen. Last week, much to my surprise, I could see a little hint of red through the dense green. I was so excited that I ran into the garden and started pulling leaves back to take a closer look. In my excitement, one fell off the branch and hit the ground with a dispirited thud. I picked it up. From the top it appeared to be fine - but when I turned it over, there was a dark depression on the bottom, like an ugly, mouldy pockmark. I gasped. Of all the things that I wanted to work out in my garden,  the most important were the tomatoes. These were my San Marzano (Roma-esque) paste tomatoes and I had big plans for them.

After consulting the handy-dandy Encyclopaedia of Insects and Plant Diseases, I discovered that my tomatoes were suffering from blossom rot. Usually caused by drought, blossom rot can also occur after too much rain - and, there's been no shortage of that around here! While the roots of the plant rot slowly, water and nutrients find it more and more difficult to travel to the fruit. First the leaves start to die (turning yellow and spotted in the process) and then the fruit gets the dreaded spot, falls off and dies. And so my excitement turned to grave concern. I was mentally picturing fewer and fewer jars of delicious tomato sauce on my shelves. As you can well imagine, this has caused me great anxiety.
Unfortunately, there is nothing one can do about blossom rot, but beg the rain to stop and hope for the best.
This is my first time growing a garden of this calibre and all I really wanted were my own tomatoes... Rain rain, please go away. Don't even come back another day.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tips: Things I would do differently next year

It's been a while since I have had a chance to write for pleasure - my apologies to those of you who look for more frequent updates. I have been in the process of launching my career as a freelance writer - which means a lot of work and little time. Unfortunately, the first thing to go has been my blog. But, I must admit, I miss it.
The garden. What a beautiful, wondrous place! It has been a TON of work - more than I had anticipated, but so so so worth it. I can't explain the feeling that I get everytime I walk out there; a combination of wonder and anxiety. Weeds grow at an alarming rate, but then so do vegetables. I have been too busy to go up there for a couple of days at a time and what I'd left as a tiny little growth has exploded into something ridiculously large. The following is a list of tips about growing your own food for
first time gardeners:

  1. Gardening, although A LOT of work, is deeply rewarding
  2. Plant many seeds but space them apart when they start growing - 6 carrots cannot grow out of the same space
  3. Don't plant everything at the same time, especially the greens
  4. Don't plant too much - you can't possibly eat everything!
  5. Give your plants enough space - they need it to grow
  6. Fertilize before you plant - fresh fertilizer will burn leaves and sometimes kill the plant altogether
  7. Don't make your garden too big. It is a lot of work and can be overwhelming to a newbie gardener
  8. Don't plant too soon - especially in our northern climate, the risk of frost is too high
  9. Don't plant too late - plants need all the time they can get to grow
  10. Don't cheap out on soil - if your soil is weak and low in nutrients, pay the extra money for fertilizers (horse manure compost is like gold around here!)
  11. Don't let the weeds run wild! This is really, really hard to do in your first year, especially if the garden is freshly dug. Seeds lay dormant for a really long time, so be prepared to be bombarded by them constantly.
  12. Keep an eye on the bugs.They can do a lot of damage, but the bulk of the damage can be avoided if you nip it in the bud early.
  13. Make sure you have enough sun and protection from the wind
  14. Stakes! Stakes! Stakes! If I had known how many stakes I was going to need I wouldn't have considered gardening a cheap endeavor. That being said, once you have them you always have them.
This is all I can think of for now. I bought some amazing books on organic gardening before I started so I was prepared for what might happen. I tackled each problem as it presented itself. Unfortunately, the only thing you can't control is the weather, but it hasn't been too terrible this summer.

My garden has produced an abundance of food this year - more than I could ever hope to eat myself - and it just keeps coming! I have a variety of mixed greens, romaine, baby bok choy, arugula, 3 different types of carrots, beets, radishes, squash, eggplant, patty pan squash, pickles, cucumbers, pie pumpkins, red and rainbow chard, spinach, snap peas, basil, peppers, and 5 varieties of tomatoes!!! Everything produced beyond my expectations except the parsnips. For whatever reason, I didn't get one. Or maybe I over-zealously weeded them out. No matter how much work has been involved, the entire process has been so enjoyable and rewarding that I have nothing to complain about - and the food is amazing! Hope the tips have helped a bit.

If anyone else has any tips, please post them here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Eggplant attack!

As I mentioned before, a lot of my blogs this summer will have to do with growing my own food. A huge part of eating closer to home, for me at least, has to do with cutting out the unnecessary use of pesticides and herbicides. Since making the decision to grow everything organically however, it has not been as easy as I had first thought. Just because you make the choice to do things the 'right' way, doesn't mean that Mother Nature will just leave you be. In fact, I'd argue that she attacks with a vengaence that makes you question why you defend her in the first place... for a moment.

Anyway, I went out to the garden the other day and noticed that my eggplants' leaves were starting to look more like collanders than foliage. Each leaf was riddled with tiny, wee holes, which looked like singes from flying sparks. What could be doing this? Bending down further, I spotted the culprit - a miniature beetle-like bug that jumped like a common flea when disturbed. My pest identification book tells me that this bug is a 'flea beetle' - an appropriately named little guy. It also gave me a couple of ideas on how to get rid of them. First, I made a concoction of minced garlic cloves (3 large or 5 small) and water, which I let sit for a couple of hours. I poured the mixture into a spray bottle and sprayed the heck out of the plants. Most of the flea beetles hopped off the leaves, and some even died. Then I took wood ash from our firepit and sprinkled it around the stem of each plant. Because there has been so much rain lately, I have had to do this daily - sometimes several times a day. It looks as if the flea beetles have had a change of heart. I still see a couple from time to time, but nothing like the infestation that I first encountered.
I found an article on the flea beetle this morning that might be of interest to readers. Click here for more information.
With the flea beetle issue solved, it's time to move on to the radishes. According to this same pest book, there are no pests that eat radishes, yet, their foliage looks like it has been attacked by an angry kid, armed only with a holepunch. Back to the books!
Until next time...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rabbit Cacciatore, Artisanale-style

To celebrate our anniversary, my guy and I went to Artisanale (in Guelph) for dinner. I had never been to Artisanale before, but what I'd heard was mostly positive. The only negative remarks were made about portion size and price - portions being too small and prices, too high. But the food is all locally sourced, sustainable grown and, quite often, organic. Best of all, everything is handcrafted. Wednesdays and Thursdays they offer a prix fixe menu - 3 courses for $27. I've learned over time not to get too excited about a place, since often they do not live up to my high expectations. I must say, Artisinale was a pleasant surprise.

To start I ordered a glass of red wine. Our server brought it out with some fresh baked bread (baked in-house), sliced radishes and butter. We nibbled away while looking over the menu. I decided on a chicken liver pate to start, followed by a rabbit cacciatore dish, and dessert, which was to be decided after the meal.
The pate was delicious. Light and fluffy with subtle flavours. It was served with thinly sliced, toasted bread. It didn't last long. Since I had never tried rabbit before, I was really excited about the next course. I'm surprised, actually, that I haven't tried rabbit, being from a family full of hunters. I hoped that it would live up to my expectations.
When it arrived, its presentation was beautiful - so much so that I almost didn't want to touch it. The rabbit was carefully laid on a bed of pappardelle pasta and covered in a rich tomato sauce. Its aroma was heavenly. The first bite practically melted in my mouth. The rabbit was so tender, it just fell off the bone. I cannot express in words how much I loved that dish. I did not ask them where they got the rabbit, but I will be calling them back to find out. I'm going to have to try a recipe at home.
If you have not tried rabbit before, you may be understandably squeamish. If you can get past the fact that the rabbits are cute, fluffy and might make for a good pet, then you're in for a treat. I learned to get over that a long time ago. A delicious treat, I can't wait to eat rabbit again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

52 Weeks, 52 New Foods - Week 2: Morels

Last year I went foraging with an older gentleman who was very knowledgable about mushrooms, but I didn't actually eat any. It's not that I didn't trust his judgement; I would have let him eat anything he picked. I just wasn't sure about them. Then he told me about morels. I was intrigued. Most edible mushrooms have an evil twin sister who's jealous of her popularity, plotting the destruction of her adoring fans, but the morel does not. There is, apparently, one that looks somewhat similar, but I am told that you'd have to be just short of an idiot to think they were the same. I missed the morel boat last year, so I vowed to buck up and try them out this year. Morels are not easy to find. They have a very tiny season and then they disappear. They are well camoflaged, with a surface much like that of honeycomb, but without the uniformity. They are pointed and pale brown in colour. Inside, they are hollow and white. Their smell is pungent and earthy. Morels are a culinary delight and should NEVER be eaten raw. I was told that morels grew wild on the 35 acres where I live, but after weeks of crashing through the woods, frightening wildlife, I was close to giving up. I decided that if this was going to be the year of the morel, I had to take an alternate route. I was heading to Toronto for a wine tasting event anyway, so why not make a day of it? Directed by fellow foodies who I met on Twitter, I headed to Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers Market.There was said to be a 'wild foods' stall there and I was hoping to get my hands on some ramps (wild leeks), as well.
Dufferin Market - what a fantastic place! My friend and I sampled raw sheep's cheese, raw chocolate, organic, fair trade hot chocolate (frothed to perfection using a bicycle powered blender!) and fiddlehead pizza. Even though it was absolutely pouring, our undampened spirits were souring. And then we spotted him - Seth Goering of Forbes Wild Foods - AKA the Wild Food guy! There, on the table, were my much-coveted ramps. But where were the morels? I looked at Seth in desperation as he explained that his foragers were deep in the bush, out of cell-range (is this possible?), picking mushrooms as we spoke. I felt so let down. Seth did, however, carry dried morels for a whopping $33/bag, although I should note that the bag was of impressive bulk. I, however, did not want to settle for dried morels. I wanted fresh, and Seth understood. I pouted my way to another stall to contemplate the situation. Just before we were about to leave, I revisited Seth and, giving him my best cutest-kitten-in-the-world face, asked him if he would please, please, please sell me 1/3 of the bag. He agreed and I danced off to the wine tasting feeling as if I had just left one. But the story doesn't end there...
The next day, I arrived home, hungover and tired, to an even bigger surprise. My landlord had been strolling around the property when he stumbled upon -yes!- MORELS! Beautiful, wild morels - right in my very own backyard.
So, now you're wondering, what did I do with them? I made the wildest dinner that I have ever had and, my goodness, it was delicious!
Wild Duck in Morel and Wild Leek Sauce
2-4 duck breast, depending on the size
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4-5 wild leeks (ramps)
1-2 lg morels, thoroughly washed, sliced
3/4 cup red wine (I used Pelee Island Shiraz-Cabernet)
3/4 cup vegetable/chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste
4 small sprigs fresh garden thyme
1/4 cup thinly sliced carrots
1/4 cup thinly sliced celery

Pan sear the duck breasts in HOT oil. Remove to oven-safe glass dish.
On medium-low heat, saute ramps and morels. Slowly add red wine and stock of your choice. Let simmer. Add sliced carrots, celery, thyme and salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer for about 10 mins. Pour sauce over duck breasts and roast in oven at 275 F. Do not roast for too long or the breasts will get tough.
I served our duck with wild rice and bacon bits, cress salad with goats cheese and Pelee Island Shiraz-Cabernet. It was one of the most deliciou meals I have ever had - 75% wild and 100% local.

Double Green Garden - Tomato pots

For the past couple of weeks I have been searching, searching, searching, trying desperately to find those little 3" plastic pots for transplanting. My tomatoes and peppers have hit their max root capacity and are dying to break out of their cramped prison cells. I searched my household for things that might work; egg cartons aren't big enough and yogurt containers are too big. When I finally decided to suck it up and shell out my hard-earned money to the local gardening centre, I found that they were sold out - everywhere!
Luckily, a friend of mine had a solution. She told me about this little device that they sell at Organic Botanic here in Guelph. It's called a PotMaker. Now, don't go getting any silly ideas about what I'm growing in my garden. The PotMaker is a small wooden device used to make pots out of newspaper. It is made in Canada by a company called Richters and it retails for a mere $14.95.

The PotMaker is extremely easy to use. You just cut strips of newspaper, roll and press. No glue, no tape, no fuss. The pots are not only environmentally friendly, but also better for your plants. Newsprint is soy-based and biodegradable. The paper will protect the roots from pests and the shock of transplant, absorb water, and will break up on its own in the soil. Busting out of these minimum security prisons won't be a challenge, and the roots of your transplants will be out in the big world in no time. Exciting, n'est pas?
Just one more way to make sure that your tomatoes (or what-have-you) survive the shock of transplant, and you have all the local produce you can grow. Happy growing!

PotMaker by Richters
Goodwood, Ontario
L0C 1A0, Canada


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

52 Weeks, An Adventure in Food

52 weeks. 52 new foods. Life's too short to turn your nose up at anything... this year I vow to say yes and try something new each week. Care to join me? 52 Weeks, An Adventure in Food

Fiddleheads... Not the most attractive of foods, but highly sought after every spring. Before this year, I had never even heard of fiddleheads. Had someone tried to serve me one, I would have flat-out rejected it. First of all, they are one of my least favourite plants to look at. For whatever reason, I have always thought that they are extremely ugly. Second, they just don't look like they'd taste good. Finally, I have never seen them in the grocery store, which means to me that there isn't a high demand for them. But curiousity finally got this cat and I had to know. Were fiddleheads worth the fuss?
Fiddleheads rear their swirly-curly little heads during the first weeks of May. They look like a tight coil of tiny leaves, covered with a very fine, brown, tissue paper-like chaff. Their heads are approximately 1-1.5 inches in diameter. However, if you do happen to find some with larger head, they are still edible provided their heads are tightly coiled. Fiddleheads grow all over the place, but not all are edible. The edible variety grows in mudflats.

I purchased my fiddleheads at the Guelph Farmer's market. A sizeable container was going for a whopping $5, but I kindly asked the vendor to divide the container into two, in case I didn't like them. I took them home and stored them in the fridge until I was feeling brave enough to pull them out again. Fiddleheads store well in the fridge, provided they are well-wrapped. They store for up to 10 days, but are best eaten soon after harvest. It took me about 5 days to work up the courage to pull them out again.
Once I was ready, I visited several websites to see what I could do with my fiddleheads. All of them recommended that I first wash and rewash them. So, that's what I did. I found a simple recipe that I felt wouldn't detract from the flavour. I did not want to claim that I was trying something new, and then lather it in some sauce to mask its unique character. I'm braver than that... I think. I chose a simple recipe of butter, garlic and fresh parsley, all of which I had on hand. I sauteed the fiddleheads very lightly in butter, adding a little garlic and parsley for flavour.

Lo and behold, fiddleheads are not the frightening little things I thought they were. They were delicious! They have a slight nutty taste and a texture comparable to asparagus. I liked the way they crunched, even after cooking.

Delicious and nutritious! According to, fiddleheads are low in cholesterol and sodium, and a good source of protein and zinc. They are a very good source of Vitamin A and C, Riboflavin, Niacin, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

I'm so glad that I didn't let my fear of the unknown get in the way of trying these delicious little nutty nuggets. I ate the entire bowl in one sitting! With week one down, I can't wait to see what's on the menu for next week. Unless I can find morels, I think it's going to be Quinoa. See you next week!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Beer and Butter Tarts

The other day, I came across a blog that might be of interest to my fellow readers. Beer and Butter Tarts acts as an aggregator to pull Canadian food blogs together in one place. It is an RRS feed of participating food bloggers, which makes it easier for us to find our fellow foodies from across the country. It also helps us promote our sites to new readers, and I could always use more followers.
So, if you're interested in what Canadian food bloggers are writing about these days, or you have your own food-related blog that you want to promote, check out Beer and Butter Tarts.

Creamy Leek and Asparagus Soup

After making several batches of my Spicy Pickled Asparagus Spears, I found myself with a large bowl of asparagus trimmings. I could have easily cooked these up for dinner, but I felt that serving asparagus without the tips was about as appropriate as serving muffins without their tops. I had an idea. If I put them into a soup, no one would ever know about my tasteless behaviour. Surprisingly, it was one of the most unbelievable soups I have ever had! The best part is that this recipe can be made with ingredients which are both local, and in season. I had to share.

Creamy Leek and Asparagus Soup

2 tbsp butter
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 tbsp flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and chopped
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper, to taste
Fresh chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Heat butter in a medium saucepan on med-low heat. Add leek. Once leek is nice and tender, add flour and stir until it is well-mixed. Stir in chicken broth, chopped asparagus and parsley (I used chicken broth that I had made from my last chicken dinner, frozen in 1 cup portions). Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Remove soup from heat. Transfer, in small batches, to blender. Puree until smooth and return to pot. Slowly add the cream and stir until mixed thoroughly. Add salt (1/2-1 tsp) and a dash of pepper, to taste.
Serve with fresh parsley for garnish. Serves 4.

Honestly, this is one of the most delicious soups that I have ever made. It is smooth, with subtle flavours and it tastes like spring. Enjoy!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Make your own pickled spicy asparagus spears!

This weekend I purchased my first batches of Ontario asparagus for pickling. There is no better garnish for a Bloody Caesar than a pickled spicy asparagus spear and, rather than buying them throughout the year, I opted to pickle my own this year! This is the first batch I've done and, therefore, the test run. This recipe makes 3 1L jars of pickled asparagus spears.

For the brine, boil:
4 cups pickling vinegar
4 cups water
4 tbsp sugar
2 heaping tbps course salt

To prepare jars:
Boil water in a large stock pot. Using a pair of canning tongs (I don't know what they're really called), lift the jars into the water bath and boil to sterilize. Once boiled, remove from hot water.

Into each hot jar, stuff:
2 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled
1/3 hot pepper, cut lengthwise, seeds removed
1 tsp mustard seeds
1-2 lg sprig fresh dill (use more, depending on size of sprig)
1 lb asparagus, tips up (thoroughly washed, ends removed)

Once brine has been brought to a boil and the jars are stuffed and ready to be filled, pour brine into jars. Make sure that the spears are covered with brine once it is poured in. Leave 1/2 inch of space at the top of the jar. Use a long, non-metallic utensil to poke at the asparagus, removing all air bubbles from the jar. Once air bubbles have been removed, dry the lip of the jar with a clean towel. Take the snap lid in a pair of tongs and dip it in hot (but not boiling) water for a few seconds. Place the lid on the jar tightly and seal with a screw band. Do not tighten the screw band too much. It will make it extremely difficult to open later. Now boil the sealed jar in the large pot, completely covered in water, for about 10 minutes. Remove and wipe jar clean with a towel and move to an area where it can cool, undisturbed. The jar is sealed when you hear a loud POP!, or when the snap lid is depressed and cannot be pushed down futher.
Leave to pickle for a few weeks minimum, open and enjoy!

Note: I always make sure to label each jar with its ingredients and date that it was made. I also keep a journal-like record of which jars correspond with which recipes. There's nothing worse than having an especially successful batch, but not knowing what you did different. Also, the ends that you chopped off to fit the asparagus into the jars can be steamed and used in salads or eaten on their own. As my mother used to say, "Waste not, want not".
Pickled spicy asparagus spears make a great garnish for Bloody Caesars or a delicious addition to an appetizer platter.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tomato, Tomahto: The politics behind your purchases

If you're anything like me, your weekly shopping trip gets more and more complicated all the time. There are just so many things to consider; local, fresh, organic, free-range and fair trade, as well as the obvious consideration of cost. Sometimes I find myself spending a good 10 minutes staring at labels, trying to figure out which item will provide me with the most nutrients without breaking the bank. Ideally, this singular purchase will land in my grocery basket with an emphatic thump, without compromising my morals or beliefs. In reality, if I can't trace the item back to its source, I don't really know where my money is going. Sometimes that emphatic thump gets muffled by packaging and labels using words such as, 'wholesome', 'nutritious', 'farm fresh' and 'traditional'.  We're told time and time again that we, the consumers, hold purchasing power and that, ultimately, we control the market. But since tracing food stuffs from your local grocery store back to the source is virtually impossible, how can you make an educated and informed decision? Can we really have purchasing power without knowledge?
The answer, quite simply, is no. For most people, standing in a grocery aisle for 10 minutes while scrutinizing a can of salmon is not an option, nor does it bear satisfactory answers. Moreover, we simply do not want to spend our downtime doing investigative research. Often, and understandably so, choices are made based on those persuasive words and  powerful images. So, if you are much like me and you don't have 10 minutes to decide which can of salmon best fits your foodie dogma, eating locally might just be the answer. Not only does it save time, but you can ask the food producer all those niggling little questions that the can of salmon couldn't or wouldn't answer.
That said, I still find myself dissecting  and analyzing labels at the local grocery store from time to time. But what about produce? What do the tiny little stickers on our fruit and veggies tell consumers? If you look closely, you'll see where they were grown and whether or not they were grown organically. Is this really enough information to make a good decision? Do we need to know more? Well, this morning I read an article that, once again, changed the way I will look at produce forever.
A Case for Florida Farmworkers:

In order to keep up with global demand, American fruit and vegetable production has dramatically increased. Although demand and production have risen, the farmworkers who pick and pack this produce have seen their wages and working conditions either remain stagnant, or decline.
In 2001, the US Department of Labor sent a letter to US Congress describing working conditions for Florida farmworkers. The report described farmworkers as "a labor force in significant distress". Its conclusion sited farmerworkers' "low wages, sub-poverty annual earnings, (and) significant periods of un- and underemployment" as evidence of this distress. According to the 2008 USDA Profile of Hired Farmworkers, their work setting is similar to that of industrial workers. Farmworkers operate heavy machinery, which is hard physical labour. They also confront significant health risks such as sun exposure, pesticide exposure, inadequate sanitary facilities and crowded and/or substandard housing. Farmworkers earn poverty level wages, have no right to overtime pay and are not allowed to organize or collectively bargain with their employers. Due to the fact that farmwork is seasonal and unpredictable, rates of unemployment are double those of wage and salary workers. Furthermore, it has been more than 30 years since their rate of pay has risen significantly. Florida tomato pickers, for example, earn 45 cents for every 32 lb bucket of tomatoes picked. In a 10-12 hour day, workers have to pick 2 1/2 tons of tomatoes just to make the equivalent of Florida's minimum wage! In some extreme cases, workers are made to work against their will for little to no pay. This is basically modern-day slavery and absolutely despicable! Since 1997, Federal Civil Rights officials have prosecuted 7 slavery operations, involving over 1000 farmworkers!!
If you're not moved by environmental factors and you don't believe in the health risks involved in shipping food from afar, surely we can all agree on one thing: every worker, no matter what industry they work in, deserves to be fairly paid and justly treated. They deserve to make decent wages, work in a clean and safe environment, and be protected by labour laws so that they may not be exploited by their employers.
If you would like to learn more about farmworkers in Florida and what is being done to raise awareness, the entire article can be read here:

I didn't really need another reason to hem and haw in the produce section, but I'm certainly going to be extra careful when purchasing my fruits and veggies in the future. As I see it, buying local is the only way to truly know your food.
What do you think? As a consumer, how can we be sure that what we are buying isn't in direct conflict with our morals and values? Post your comments here.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Seeds, seeds, seeds...

I was a little late ordering my seeds but it's something that I have never done before and, I must admit, a tad overwhelming. Usually, I would have just popped down to the nearest store and bought whatever they had in stock. This year, however, I am being much more selective. I have chosen from a range of seed companies (4 in total), after flipping endlessly through seed catalogs from 12 different companies! The selection was endless! I'm not exaggerating when I say that it took me weeks to make my final selections. It's all so exciting and new to me and there is so much to learn. Before this process began, I had no idea what indeterminate meant. Phrases like, 'hardening out' and 'bolting' meant nothing to me. I found myself lost in the mere descriptions of vegetables, being both a romantic, as well as a lover of words. Who are the lucky people who get to write these descriptions? Are they on commission? I found myself writing down the names of varieties of vegetables that I don't even like. It was all in good fun, until I added up the totals. It was then that I realized that I couldn't order one package of seeds from every company, just to be supportive. The postage alone was going to kill my bank account. I first had to narrow down which companies would get my support this year and for what reasons. In the end I chose four. I ordered seeds from Annapolis Seeds in Nova Scotia simply because the idea of a 16 year old boy owning and operating his own organic seed company is mind-blowing. While his catalogue is smaller than the other companies', he grows the seeds himself and they are open-pollinated, non-GMO and totally organic, although not certified. Owen Bridge has my full support and wish him all the success in the world! Here is a link to his website should you be interested in purchasing seeds from him yourself:
 From Owen, I purchased seeds for Lancer Parsnips, Chadwick's Cherry Tomatoes and Yellow Pear Tomatoes. I can't wait until they arrive!
Next, I chose a company called Hope Seeds, based in New Brunswick. They also sell heritage and organic seeds of the highest quality. From them I purchased seeds for cucumbers, 5 Colour Silverbeet Swiss Chard, Red Express red cabbage, and acorn squash. They haven't arrived yet either but I'm pretty sure they'll be here anyday now, maybe even today. Here's the link to Hope Seed's website:

Yesterday my seeds arrived from High Mowing Seed Company. Although High Mowing is an American company and, generally speaking, I support Canadian companies first, I was drawn in by the varieties available through High Mowing. Their seeds are also 100% organic and they have heritage varieties available too. From High Mowing Organic Seeds I purchased the following seeds: Early Wonder Tall Top Beet (mostly for the greens), Shanghai Green Baby Pac Choy, Jericho Romaine Lettuce, Orion Red Pepper, Yellow Scallopini Patty Pan Squash, Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato (delicious little guys!), and San Marzano Paste Tomato. Since they arrived yesterday, I will be starting the seeds indoors as of today. Can't wait to get started... Here is the link for High Mowing Organic Seeds:

Finally, the biggest order I placed was through Henry Field's Seed & Nursery Co., based in Oakville, Ontario. Henry Field's is not entirely organic but they do sell a variety of organic seeds. Whether or not this is a rural myth, I have heard from several people that organic crops fail more often because they are more susceptible to pests. Of course, I didn't want to believe this and purchased mostly organic seeds. However, the little voice in the back of my head said that it wouldn't hurt to try a couple of the non-organic varieties. That said, I did find myself favouring the organic seeds in the Henry Field's catalogue anyway. Here is what I bought from Field's: Howden's Field Pumpkins, Jackpot Hybrid Zucchini Summer Squash, Kuroda carrots, Miss Pickler Hybrid Cucumbers (the name alone sold me!), Oregon Sugar Pod Snow Peas, Rainbow Blend Carrot Seeds, Ruby Red Chard, Saxa Radish, Sugarsnax Carrot, Twilight Eggplant and Vital Green Spinach. They should be here anyday now too! Very exciting! Here's the link to Henry Field's:

I also had the opportunity to attend Seedy Saturday here in Guelph. I met a number of people who sell and grow seeds for a living. I bought seeds from the Cottage Gardener and Ecogenesis booths.
Now that the seeds are here, well, almost here, I can get started on the seedlings. Since I have the day off tomorrow, I will continue this then... Until then, I'll be impatiently waiting for the rest of my seeds to arrive.