Friday, August 28, 2009

A salmon story

Salmon is a popular fish. Even people who are not keen on fish will deign to eat salmon in some form or another (usually as smoked salmon, with cream cheese on a bagel...) The other day I overheard a woman in a restaurant exclaiming that she loved salmon so much, she would eat it every day if she could afford it. This despite widespread news that farmed salmon is so full of toxins that one should limit, if not outright eliminate, its consumption.

If you do like salmon, then it should be a comfort to you that wild Pacific salmon are in season. Sockeyes are still being caught off the northern coast of British Columbia and in Alaska, and Cohoes are now also available.

Wild salmon has a beautiful deep red flesh, and it is firm and lean, quite unlike the anemic blubber that passes off as farmed salmon. It tends to be less 'fishy' in flavour due to the fact that it swims in open and clean waters, and does not wallow in its own shit. Salmon is a top of the food chain predatory fish, and like all predators it's flesh will contain some toxins, however wild salmon tend to be less toxic then farmed... I don't know where I am on the farmed vs wild debate. As it stands, I think I lean towards wild caught, under sustainable conditions. In any case, I believe that all animal proteins should only be consumed in moderation.

It is a known fact that humans can be unreasonable. Worldwide, fish stocks are plummeting. While some fish (salmon and cod) have caught the attention of law makers and fisheries, and are being closely monitored, others (bluefin tuna) seem to be fair game despite blatant signs that stocks are near collapse... Wild Pacific salmons, long thought as being sustainably managed, were eerily absent from the Fraser River in B.C. this year. Commercial fishing of Atlantic salmon show little sign of coming back to North American coasts anytime soon, though if you miss its flavour you can always travel to Scotland and Ireland where it can be found in season.

There is a sliver of good news for Atlantic Salmon: for the first time in over a century, and after relentless restoration efforts, 41 wild salmon have been spotted in the Salmon(!) River (NY), a tributary of Lake Ontario. And the most recent census for the salmon population in the Gulf of St-Lawrence shows promising numbers for the year-old fry -now, we cross our fingers and pray they survive to adulthood.

So why am I going on about it being wild salmon season only to tell you not to eat it? Well, because, it's also the season for most wild salmonidae: trouts of all kind are up for being fished, though I'm not sure wild trouts are available at a fishmonger; Arctic char is also in season, and it is a more sustainable alternative to salmon.

If you must eat farmed fish, trout and Arctic char may be a better choice than salmon. Both are raised on land based fish farms (as opposed to aquaculture, which are plunked in a body of water, as for salmon). Often twined with other agricultural practices such as hydroponic veggies, land based pisciculture may be a more environmentally sound source for farmed fish.

I am not trying to dissuade you permanently from eating salmon, I just want to encourage you to try other fish, and generally to cut back on animal proteins. Give the ocean, the rivers and lakes a rest, a breather, a chance to recover. Have some more fruits and veggies -remember, it's 5 to 10 portions a day!

Bon app'!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MELONS! Who wants some juicy melons?!?!

What with the rocky start to summer and all, it completely slipped my mind: melons are in! And they are sweet!!!! I haven't yet had any watermelons -it so completely slipped my mind, that I did not buy one during our brief heat wave... How ridiculous of me: melons are, like, 90% water, and when chilled are the most effective way to quench your thirst. And if the cantaloupes and the muskmelons are any indication, the watermelons are sure to be juicy, and sticky sweet! No joke, the other day at work, I bit into a slice of cantaloupe that was so sweet that my back teeth hurt!

Melons are close cousins to cucumbers and squashes, which is why cuke-haters like my brother also dislike melons: apparently they taste cucumber-y and the sugar does not mask it. Oh well, their loss! There are so many delightful ways to have melons that it boggles the mind!

Looking at all the young 'ens going back to school makes me think of the very collegiate vodka-watermelon. It's not actually the most tasty recipe, but it was a a good way to ingest way too much alcohol! A more adult version of this concoction is the French "melon et ratafia": Ratafia is a sweet alcohol made from wine... I don't think I've ever seen any outside of France, but it is not all that important. Any sweet, amber-coloured alcohol will do just as well: ice wine, ice cider, amaretto, dark rum or brandy with a little added sugar... Ideally, you will have found cute as a button miniature cantaloupes (cut in half, deseeded, alcohol in the centre, serve with a spoon... dig in!) But any melon of any size will do: basically, you are making an adult melon -only fruit salad. Chop the melon in bite-sized chunks, toss with the beverage of your choice, keep chilled until you are ready to serve. A few chopped mint leaves will add some colour and emphasize freshness.

Melon soup is also a luscious way to cool off in the summer heat, and nothing can be easier. Cut melon into wedges, remove seeds and peel, chop roughly. If you have a blender, place in the jug and blitz away, otherwise you will need to proceed in batches in a food processor. When the soup is nice and smooth, check the flavour and consistency: if it is too thick, you can thin it with white grape or cranberry juice, water, or even a splash of white wine. If your melons were very watery and you feel the need to thicken it, you can put the whole thing in a very fine sieve or in a cheesecloth and let it sit until you've extracted enough liquid. Or you can add a banana to the mix, but it will taste banana-y. Personally, I'd rather have a thin soup... If you are serving as a starter, add a pinch of salt and garnish with thin slices of prosciutto or smoked duck. This soup can also be served as a light dessert, in which case I would use a garnish of any seasonal berries: raspberries, strawberries or redcurrants.

Who can forget the classic Italian appetizer of melons and Parma ham? Sweet and salty: you can't beat that! If you aren't too keen on melons, and are lucky enough to live in a warmer clime, figs are also coming into season (I LOVE figs, unfortunately, really good ones are hard to come by around here, they're never sweet nor ripe enough), and they are also lovely with slivers of prosciutto... Anyone know a veggie alternative to cured hams?

While melons are slow in coming up at this latitude, other cucurbits fare better, even when summer is practically non-existent. Zucchini are everywhere, as are patty-pan squashes and cucumbers. The first winter squashes (spaghetti, butternut, acorn) are also hitting the stands, but these are for eating now: if you want keepers for you pantry, you should wait for the later harvests.

Bon app'!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Oh the wonders of Mother Nature

Yes! Summer is here!!! I know, I know, I do tend to melt in the the heat, but my tomatoes are just not going to ripen without a good heat wave, so I'll just have to grin and bear it...

Anyhoo, I never cease to be amazed by Nature's abilities for adaptation. Take the mackerel for example:
Aren't they pretty? Look at their aerodynamic bodies. They were just made to zip through waters. You can see the family resemblance with their cousin the tunas. Beautiful creatures, lovely markings, so adapted to their environment. Mackerels do not have a visible layer of fat, like salmon for example, but they are a fatty fish, well suited to cold waters, and therefore high in omega fatty acids.

These babies are scaleless and have few small bones, so they are a no fuss fish. Really easy to prepare and a change from humdrum farmed salmon or endangered bluefin tuna.

Mackerel are low in the food chain, so they have few of the toxins associated with bigger fish. They swim around in big schools, and are pretty abundant. They also tend to be cheap year round, but right now is the time to pick up some fresh -not frozen, Atlantic mackerel. And when I say cheap, I mean CHEAP!!!! Currently, in Montreal, fresh mackerel average at 3$/lb (7$/kg), bluefin tuna, on the other hand, weighs in at 50$/kg, and farmed salmon is 30$/kg. All that without the side order of mercury, and little guilt since mackerel stocks are healthy and the industry is deemed sustainable overall. The beauties you see here cost me 10$, that's 2$ apiece, and they were fresh-caught yesterday. One fish is more than enough for a fish-loving adult, or 2 not too keen on fish... But if you like canned tuna, you really should try mackerel: being a not too distant cousin, it has some similarities in flavour. Some. I will grant you that it will never pass off as tuna, but it is close to canned light tuna. And it's yummy!
Mackerel is lovely on the bbq, generously doused in oil so as to not stick, and some lemon juice once on the plate, but I like it oven-grilled (broiled). Pre-heat your oven to 425'F (190'C)Cut a few slits on one side, sprinkle a good amount of salt... enough so that you can see the grains, but not a thick layer (about ½ a teaspoon). You can stuff the belly with some herbs, and pop the fish in the oven. Let bake about 8 minutes, then turn the broiler on, and leave for 2 minutes more, or until the tail starts charring.

Y.U.M.M.Y. Served with some veggies and bread or rice, and you've got yourself a lovely meal.

Bon app'!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rooftop block party!!!!

It's that time of the year again folks! The Perseids meteor showers are in town, and it's going to be a huge one this year! Astronomists are predicting showers of up to 100 meteor per hour this year (a regular year boasts 50/hour). Even if you live in an overpopulated suburb or city, you will be able to see a couple of them as long as you place yourself in a spot with little ambient light: like a big park after lights out. Peak time is between 10p.m. and midnight, with another burst around 4 a.m. Although the biggest Perseids will fall on the night of the 11th to the 12th, they should be visible at least until Friday. So get into organisation mode, and get yourself a block party! If you can convince your neighbours to turn out their outdoor lights, then you can have yourselves a mighty show!

What has this got to do with food, you say? Well... Nothing much I suppose, but it could be an ideal occasion to meet your neighbours and talk about food issues, local produce and the problem with suburban sprawl, all the while munching on some organic snacks you threw together. Chances are you live in a city, or at least some form of urban setting, and you hardly see or know your neighbours. If your job entails massive amounts of public relations and fake smiles, then you might be content with being alone or with your immediate circle of people, but on the whole humans are social animals, and our current way of life is not conducive to sociability. A neighbourhood block party is a great way to remedy the problem, and you get to see lots of shooting stars. Remember to wish for carbon-cutting legislation!

There was a time when neighbours all knew each other. And it was not that long ago!!! I grew up in a suburb, and I knew everyone -well, the kids at least- in a ten block radius. When my parents moved into our home, there was a welcoming committee, and every summer we had neighbourhood barbecues. This kind of close knit community still exists in some older neighbourhoods or suburbs, but on the whole they are on the endangered list.

It might seem like a benign problem when compared with global warming and the threat of total annihilation, but it isn't, actually. Close knit communities foster a sense of belonging, and when one belongs one tends to care more about one's immediate surrounding. We don't all live in Stepford Wives-type communities (thank goodness for that!), but neighbours on friendly terms are less likely to throw their trash around or leave heaps of junk on their lawn. People care for each other. Children raised in a friendly neighbourhood grow up to be successful in life (in the real sense of the word: happy and satisfied with their life.)

Neighbourliness fosters a sense of security, because you know you can turn to a neighbour in times of need. You might not be in the mood to go cross-town to have a drink with your BFF, but if a neighbour is hanging out on the porch, you might just drop by for a beer! Close knit communities have lower crime rates.

If you're on friendly terms with your neighbours, then you will be in a better position to steer them towards greener choices. Neighbourliness can diminish some aspects of over-consumption: friendly neighbours lend each other things (think of Ned Flanders on the Simpsons), and share resources. You might start bulk purchasing and sharing with your neighbours: makes those CSA baskets a little less daunting!

All in all, being a good neighbour is a more sustainable way of life and it's a better way to combat the evils of suburban sprawl. Who knows, you might meet up with like minded people! Maybe you'll meet someone who'd love to garden share! Or maybe one of your neighbours is an eco-activist trying to turn a nearby brownfield into a community garden. Oh, the possibilities are endless!

So throw a rooftop party. Enjoy the meteor shower, and bon app'!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Doing something for someone else

I love eating. Very much so. I don't use food as an emotional crutch, though what I eat depends greatly on my mood - and the contents of my fridge and larder... Food is a huge part of my life. I practically live for food. I am a chef after all. I enjoy ridiculously expensive foods, but I also crave macaroni and cheese.

I don't know what I would do if I woke up one day and found that I was unable to feed myself, and yet lack of nourishment is a reality for far too many people.

Hunger is an enormous problem worldwide, one that could be so easily solved. There is no shortage of food, but there is a problem with distribution. There might be a couple dusty cans of food in your cupboard that can be donated to a food bank. Or perhaps you have some spare change for a collection.

There are other ways to help with minimal efforts on your part. Two websites provide food to the hungry, and all you need to do is look them up, and click. The websites' sponsors donate food to different organisations on your behalf.

The Hunger Site reunites six issues in one place. You can even sign up for daily reminders to click.

Free Rice is a little more work than the above, however it can be a fun site to help improve your odds in Trivial Pursuit... Have a look, it is kind of addictive.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Market day

You know what? All this rain that's been pouring down on the North East has been a boon to raspberry growers! I went to the market to supplement my CSA basket, and I came back with a case of raspberries! Twelve punnets for 20$, they were cheaper than the strawberries!

I don't recommend buying a whole case of rrr-berries unless you intend to make something of them or have a crowd coming over for brunch, seeing as they do not keep very well. Since they were relatively cheap, I decided to make jam -which is kind of a sacrilege, but homemade raspberry jam is quite lovely for breakfast! I even had enough left over to freeze for the winter (well, I don't know if they with last til then...)

Making jam is a great way to preserve summer flavours, and it's a pleasant way to spent an afternoon. No joke! If you make small batches, jamming and canning can be quite fun, and you'll glow with pride every time you bring out the jam jar! I highly recommend purchasing a kitchen scale if you do not already own one, as they simplify jamming.

Raspberry Jam
1 Kg (2.2 lbs) raspberries, fresh or frozen
600g (1.32lbs) sugar
1 packet of liquid or pow
der pectin

Take a large saucepan, add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan (5mm /¼" deep), add the berries.
If using powder pectin, blend into the sugar and dump in the pan.
Bring pot up to the boil, stirring the berries to crush and extract juice.
If using liquid pectin, add it now.
Once the berries are at a rumbling boil, turn down the heat to medium low and let simmer for at least 10 minutes. You can let it boil longer if you want a more concentrated "jammy" flavour, but 10 to 15 minutes is enough to set the pectin, and your jam will keep more of its "fresh berry" flavour.
If you don't like seeds in your jam, now is the time to sieve them out, but I think it's a wast
e of time, and you risk burning your self.
Pour hot jam into sterilised jars, and cap. You should get three 500ml (1 pint) or six 250ml (½pint) jars.
You can process your jars for 15min (place in a large pot, cover with warm water, bring up to the boil, and let
simmer), or you can just let them cool overnight, away from drafts and keep the jars in the fridge.

The whole process is the same for other fruits, however the amount of sugar will vary. For example, strawberry jam will require at least 800g of sugar, sometimes even a whole kilo. All that sugar really cuts down on the freshness of the berries, so I often add the zest of a lemon to give it some brightness.

It's too early for autumn strawberries, but since our territory is so big, we are still getting "locally" produced summer strawbs, though they are no longer within the "100 mile" radius. Blueberries and raspberries are plentiful and well within the backyard range for Montreal, and I am quite sure the same goes for most places across North America.

I had some berries with whipped cream today, and it was D-I-V-I-N-E!!!

The first sweet corns are in, and they are a sight for sore eyes! I love corn on the cob, and I always look forward to eating my first ears. It's still early in the season, so it's a little pricey and the kernels are a little small, but they are sweet and tender. Once again, the rain seems to have been beneficial because corn is a thirsty crop, and the season usually starts later. So all you barbecue enthusiasts start your engines!!!!

Corn has been getting a bit of a bad rap lately, but don't worry your little noggins about fresh corn on the cob: the main beef is that corn has become ubiquitous, from feeding our livestock to our cars, and turning up in every processed food in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. But corn in its wholesome, natural form is a healthy vegetable, high in fibre and a whole slew of nutrients. In Canada, none of the corn sold for eating out of hand is genetically modified (those are reserved for cattle feed and processed foods, though we will never know which until we get proper labelling laws), though I'm not sure what the situation is in the US.

So eat away! And make sure you buy it at the market!!! Corn, like asparagus and other crop I may have mentioned before, is very perishable! It will not turn mouldy overnight (like strawberries or raspberries), nor will they go limp and yucky, but it will lose all of its natural sugars, and your 'sweet' corn will disappoint. The corn sold at farmers' markets is picked that very morning, and on busy days there are often afternoon deliveries of fresh picked ears. Not so at the supermarket.

By all means, eat any leftovers, but preferably in a cornbread, chowder, or pancake, rather than in its natural attire. If you don't believe me, go ahead and buy a dozen, eat 6 as soon as you get home, and keep the other half dozen for tomorrow's lunch. You will taste a sizable difference. Leftover cooked corn can also be frozen for later use: simply cut the kernels off the cob, and freeze.

Summer garlic is here! Summer garlic is nice: these ones here are mid-season, so the bulbs have already started to split into cloves, but there is little or no skin between, and whatever there is thick and soft so it's easy to peel.

It isn't really different from storage garlic in flavour, but it is milder raw, and yet more pungent: I was engulfed in a cloud of garlicness on my way home in the metro!

Another brownie point for local garlic is that it will likely be organic. Garlic is a relatively easy crop to grow, it requires little care, and absolutely no pesticides. So even if it not certified organic, it is very likely that your local garlic will have been grown without the use of (very expensive) chemicals. And local garlic keeps better: left in a 'cool' dark place, but never in the fridge, fresh garlic will keep for a long time. Storage garlic will keep for months, but it still a little early for those.

A word on stone fruits: there were some nice Ontario peaches at the market (Californians are long gone, I think the US peaches are currently arriving from Washington), but it is clearly still early in the season as they all had green shoulders. Most likely is that all the pretty ones were kept in Ontario... The fruits were also small, and some looked a little worse for the wear: I'm not sure it was because of bad transportation, or if the excessive rain is taking a toll on the peaches. Still no sign of apricots, but the plums looked very appetising, and the vendors claimed that both the peaches and the plums were excessively juicy and sweet.

I haven't mentioned any meat or fish lately because the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables has been so overwhelming. But Pacific wild salmons are in season. The Pinks have come and gone, Sockeyes are now abundant and reasonably priced. Cohoes will be swimming later in the season.

Atlantic mackerels are still abundant, and they look beautiful! These babies would be marvelous on the bbq, with a generous sprinkling of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

The season for Quebec lobsters is now closed, but Nova Scotian lobsters are still to be had.

Bon app'!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My point exactly...

Well, I rather object to the final plug in for Hellmann's (owned by Best Foods... a subsidiary of Unilever- they make soap!), but this ad/documentary has a point. And feel free to substitute 'Canada' for the name of whichever country you happen to live in.

Bon app'!

Consumption City

Eating is consumption at its most basic and vital level.
Eating is living. Ergo living is consuming... errrr... not quite?!!?

Consuming food is life giving, but the consumption of disposable goods is definitely not. As the current strike in Toronto, and the recently ended one in Windsor, have shown Canadians, wanton consumption leads to piles of garbage.

And it gets stinky. Really stinky. And it hasn't even been a particularly hot summer. To think that at least 30% of those mounds of garbage is compostable... But city employees were on strike, so there was no municipal composting being done anyway!!! No, indeed, but the waste could have been composted or vermicomposted at home. And those mounds of garbage would have been a third less big.

I don't have a garden. Nor do you need one. If you have a balcony, a sunny windowsill, or even a couple of houseplants in a dark bedroom, you will find use for that compost. If there are community gardens in your neighbourhood, apply for a plot -granted, it can take a while before you actually get a parcel- then you can feed the land that will feed you. Another option is the garden share programme, whereby an eager-yet plotless-gardener is paired up with a landed-yet somewhat disinterested person. Or you can always donate the compost to someone with a garden: compost makes a great gift for the green thumbed!

If you've ever visited New York City, than you must have noticed all the gardens. Yet most Manhattanites do not have actual gardens: they have pots of flowers on their doorsteps, planters on their windowsills, and some have also overtaken those squares of soil around the trees planted in the sidewalks. Such small, confined gardens really benefit from good compost, and the rewards are plentiful: beautiful flowers to brighten your day (and your plates if you grow edibles), tasty veggies and fruits that are the height of local-ness. And last, but not least: tended gardens tend to cut down on the littering. Seriously, if you grow some flowers in a pot or a couple of lettuces under a tree, most passers-by will get the message that whoever lives there cares about their living space and will feel less inclined to chuck their garbage amongst your zinnias.

The garbage truck (usually) takes it all away, so why should I care? You should care because landfills are reaching capacity, and cities are running out of space to build more, incinerators spew out tonnes of greenhouse gases, and right now you are digesting food that was grown on Earth. And whereas we keep taking from the earth, we give very little back. Composting is the least we can do to ensure that our soil will continue to feed us. Though organic gardening advocates have been saying it for years, recent studies have shown without a doubt that no amount of fertiliser (organic or otherwise) can compensate for the effects of soil erosion. Modern agriculture, urban sprawl, combined with the aberrant effects of global warming are washing away what little fertile topsoil we have. Without topsoil, food yields plummet, without food there is no life.

Fertilisers are to plantlife what multivitamins are to us: useful in a pinch, but they don't fill you up. Compost is like a big plate of whole wheat pasta smothered in a chunky ragù, a side of veggies, and why not, a steak on top. All that roughage is what constitutes earth.

So please, start a compost pile or vermicompost bin, ask your mayor to implement a brown waste pick-up. Stop buying bags of black earth, and start using your own homemade compost. Use it in your garden, on your lawn, in your flower pots.

Feed yourself, feed the Earth, and there will be a little less hunger.

In the meantime, here's another movie suggestion if you want to save yourself from brain rot before the summer's end:

And you might have noticed a new feature on my blog: the plastic bag count ticker under my profile. Scary to think of all those bags floating about.

A little gratitude is in order

How cute is this? I was browsing around, looking what other people are blogging about, and I ran into Melissa's...

Well, I don't know if I qualify as a nice person, seeing as I am a proud humbug, but Melissa's blog made me think of all those people who work at market and farm stands: they are nice people.

So here's my thanks to them for all their advice on how to prepare the gorgeous produce they sell. Thank you to the growers who put so much love into the foods they bring to our tables. A tip of the hat to Mr X who has a wonderful dairy stall at the Marché des Quais de Saône -votre beurre est délicieux, le lait de vos vaches onctueux, et vos oeufs de poulettes sont l'ingrédient clé de mes pots de chocolat!

My sincere gratitude to you all.

Hello Miss Molly! And other critters

Now that I have chicken wires fences around my garden beds, Miss Molly and I get along just fine! She still drops by for a nibble, and she likes to glare at me from time to time, so I occasionnally leave her some lettuce leaves just to keep the peace.

My garden is still being assaulted though... a juvenile squirrel has been on a tasting rampage in the beds, and there is skunk that likes to dig around for slugs and worms... Oh well, I suppose I can't complain, I am the invader here after all.

Bon app' little critters!
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