Wednesday, November 25, 2009

BND


Buy Nothing Day is this Friday (Saturday for non-North Americans) folks.

For those who doubt in the effectiveness of BND or any other individual action, here is a very fitting quote from the late Anita Roddick:

Anyone who thinks he is too small to make a difference has never been in bed with a mosquito.

So don't forget this Friday: stay in, enjoy a day away from crowds, with your family, your new born child, your cats. Or go to work if you must, pack a lunch, and forget your wallet and car keys on the dresser, just remember your buspass or your bike lock.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Canada's next top model....


Kale is such a beautiful vegetable that I couldn't help myself from having a veritable photo session with the frilly greens!

As its dark colours can attest, kale is a real nutritional powerhouse, unfortunately, it isn't a well liked vegetable. Which is bizarre, because as far as green vegetables go, it isn't particularly strong flavoured (like cabbage), bitter (like rapini) or tongue rasping (like swisschard). No, I can't really figure out why so many people back away from this lovely green.








It is a most forgiving vegetable: first of all, it keeps for a ridiculously long time -these babies have been waiting in a plastic bag, out in my garden shed for close to a month, and they are still full of life! Secondly, they are one of the few vegetables that can take any amount of cooking. In fact, kale likes to be well done.

Unlike most other greens that are best eaten underdone, kale is actually more palatable if it is thoroughly cooked (6-10 minutes in boiling water), and cooked some more (drained, rinsed, then thrown in a pan with butter, or in some tomato sauce, or reheated with leftover mashed potatoes....) Indeed, if you like to have green bits in your stews and casseroles, kale is the veg for you: it will be more than happy to stew for a couple of hours in a Crockpot or braise in the oven with whatever you want. The green kales may lose some of their brightness, but they will not turn muddy like, say, swisschard.... and the purple and pink kales will pretty much keep their hues.

Kale, like many of its kissing cousins in the cabbage family, is a very hardy vegetable: you may have noticed pretty, pink cabbages in some gardens, frosted over or even covered in snow. Although these decorative kales were bred for their colours, they are actually edible, and repeated frosts and snow cover renders them more digestible (just like Brussel sprouts!) This hardiness makes it the ideal winter vegetable for our northern climate: it is, in theory, available until at least late February, however its low popularity makes it sometimes hard to find locally. I have seen imported kale at the supermarket, but they tend to come from warmer climes and are sometimes tough because they were not subjected to frost. If you must buy imported kale, cook it 'to death' or place in the freezer before eating.

Better yet, if you have room for a couple of planters, plant some kale by your door step. It'll make a beautiful, seasonal display, and subjected to the frosty winds and snow, it will provide you with several tasty meals!

You may recall my raving-ons about beet purée. Well here it is in all its glory: pan seared giant scallops on a bed of buttered kale and a lovely beet purée.

Bon app'!

Friday, November 20, 2009

CSA directory, part II


If you have read my previous post on CSA directories, you may have noticed that it was not very extensive. It was not for lack of searching! I did spend a couple of days researching, and that was all I had come up with at the time.

Fear not! I did not end my search then and there, and today has been fruitful! I have found some information for people living in Alberta and Saskatchewan. If you live in Saskatchewan and do not find what you want on that link, you can always try contacting the people at LoFo to find something more suitable for you.

It isn't much, I admit, but it is all I have found so far. If you happen to find more links, or would like to put in a plug for your own CSA, please do not hesitate to leave me a comment. I would more than happy to help you spread the word.

I'm off to eat the above celeriac, so todeloo!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The beet goes on

The shorter days and brisk morning air have had their toll on me, and all I want to do is burrow myself deep under my duvet... but I really was looking forward to going into work this morning. I had my my menu all planned out, and I had a pretty good idea how each dish was going to be plated. I could even taste how all the flavours would meld into beautiful combinations!

So you can imagine my disappointment when I got to work and was unable to find the beets I had asked for!!! I had a clear image of the beautiful, bright magenta purée contrasting with gorgeously seared scallops, a shot of dark green leaves underneath, and a streak of orange reduction.

I even brought my camera to work, so that I could show you the result.

But the beets had gone into a soup, and there was my dish shot to pieces... I made a sweet potato purée instead. The plate was still pretty. A Good seller in any case, but I was too heartbroken to take a picture.

I resolved to make myself some beets for dinner, but my Mum swung by with supper in hand, so there goes another photo op!

All this hoopla to say that the chilly weather has definitely settled in, no more talk of Indian Summer. The fields are pretty much bare around here, but one can still speak of 'seasonal products.' For one thing, if you are a meat eater, it's hunting season: duck. goose, and larger game are in, and fans of strong flavours are in for a treat. Unless you own a registered gun and a hunting licence, your best bet for getting your hands on real game is a good butcher. I must admit that I haven't actually stepped in a butcher shop in recent years, so I am not actually sure that wild game is legal for sale in Canada. Do any of you out there know?

I remember seeing wild hares, and geese hanging in butcher shop windows in Europe. I also remember seeing small game at the butcher shop when I was a kid, but I must say that I haven't seen a hanging carcass in Montreal of late. In any case, a butcher worth his mettle will carry farmed game, if not the wild stuff. You'll have to ask him for recipes though, because game meat is a little beyond me.

Seasonal products more in my range are all the root vegetables that are being kept in storage to last us through the cold weather... Beets are top of the list for me! They're sweet and savoury, and are such a cheerful colour, what's not to love about them? Apparently alot, but I say pshaw! Roasted beets, sliced or diced and rolled in brown butter with a dash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar is a worthy side dish for duck or any other dark meat. Borscht is an absolutely heartwarming soup and could be a meal in itself. Warm beet salad with orange segments, pine nuts (or hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, almonds...) and a sliver of goat cheese is practically a bistro classic, and made all the more pretty with rainbow hued beets. And, alas, my lovely beet purée that was not to be today... Silky smooth, and shockingly magenta, it is the perfect foil for tender, melt in your mouth, pan-seared scallops.

The sweetness of the beets really highlights the natural sugars in seafood and is a perfect accompaniment for fruit-friendly meats, like duck and pork... How does roast pork stuffed with prunes with beet sauce (basically a runny purée) sound?

Red beets are known to stain, though I find that roasting them makes them more colourfast-or maybe it's just because I shed my skin very quickly... I don't know, but my hands seem to stay pink much longer when I peel boiled beets. Either way, the only time I wear an apron in the kitchen at home is when I handle beets.

Another interesting fact about beets: if you have, or know of, young children who are just learning about digestion in their science class, beets can be a fun learning 'tool'. Indeed, the potent red pigments in beets are resistant to our digestive track, so kids can keep track of their food. Literally.

Oh come on! Everyone number-twos and number-ones! It's amusing to most kids (and a few adults), except for princesses, and it is one way to get even the most reticent child to eat beets.

So on that note, bon app'!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chickens, it's all about the chickens...

no golden eggs today
Originally uploaded by frankieleon
I really wish that keeping chickens in Montreal were legal, but then I think about Montrealers' animal rights' record, I think it might be a good thing that we are not allowed to keep the pretty ladies in this fine, yet crazy city. Perhaps someday, we will have more sense, and will be allowed to keep a few hens.

In the mean time, to those of you who live in more advanced cities, I say 'Lucky you! I'm so jealous!' If you have yet to get your chicks, I will add 'What are you waiting for?!?!' And to those of you who are seriously considering keeping a few chickens -urban or not- here is a very useful link on chicken husbandry. I must admit that I did not find the BackYard Chickens all on my own, it was linked to on another useful blog written by Jenna Woginrich. You may have noticed that Coldantler Farm is a blog I frequently read. Jenna's adventure in the rural life are entertaining and heartwarming, but most of all she offers a realistic glimpse into the whole process of building up a farm. You will also find useful tidbits on a chicken's life(style).

By the way, I don't know if any of you noticed the release of the 2009 edition of the Red List? This is the list put out by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. It made blip on the news last week: the numbers are not promising. Over one in five mammals, more than a quarter of known reptiles, and at least 70% of plants are on the endangered list.

It all seems overwhelming when written black on white, and you may feel that there isn't much you can do to save a South American tree frog, but all is not hopeless. Some of the endangered plants and animals on the list are from the agricultural domain: breeds of chickens, pigs and cows unsuited to factory farms; varieties of tomatoes, squashes and lettuces too fragile for shipping around the world. While saving Bengal tigers will require international efforts to halt the illegal poaching and trading of these majestic animals, saving farm animals and vegetables from extinction can be as simple as patronising a farmers' market and supporting small farmers.

Did you know that there over 500 varieties of potatoes grown in the Andes? Each variety is adapted to different soil, atmospheric and climate conditions. Many are unique to Peru, and even more stand to disappear if the climate warms up any more. Perhaps we cannot save all the potatoes in Peru, but we can make the effort of buying outside the big box. Of the thousands of varieties of named tomatoes in the world, less than 5 are regularly found on the shelves of North American supermarkets. So please, next summer, try some locally Black Krim tomatoes, or plant a few heads of Blonde Maraîchère in a window box. And if you do decide to keep chickens in your backyard, I hear that Chantecler -an old Québécoise, saved from the brink of extinction- is a very friendly creature.

Diversity, bio-diversity, is the key to our survival.

(p.s. That pretty chicken was not photographed by me. Click on it to find out more)

Old MacDonald had a farm...


My mind was all confusion on my way to work this morning. I was thinking about all the things I wanted to write about when I got home, and it all seemed quite interesting at the time, but now that I am sitting in front of my computer I forget what it was that I wanted to write about... there's a reason why I always have a pen and paper on me, perhaps I should use them next time I get a bright idea... Well, all is not lost!

If all my going on about how great my CSA baskets are have tickled your fancy and you still haven't got around to signing up for your own, the first step to joining is finding a farm that will supply you. So here are a couple of links to help you:

Equiterre for the list of Quebec's farms
Ontario's CSA directory
I couldn't find a directory for British Columbia, but here are a couple of links:
City farm boy
UBC (yes! UBC as in the university!)
Urban Grains
In New Brunswick, you can try Sackville
Prince Edward Island's listing

In the US, you can try this listing (it also includes some Canadian farms, and other countries) or this one, compiled by the people at Local Harvest

Not all the CSAs listed are organic, but some food and environment people would argue that local trumps organic any day if your organic has to be shipped from across the world. So I hope these listings whet your appetite!

By the way, some of you may be getting ready to get into Christmas gear... Have you thought of the gift of food? Granted, offering a CSA membership may be beyond the means of most of us, however, if my experience is any indication of the average CSA adventure then most baskets will have way more food than you or your family can consume before the arrival of the next basket. So why not share a basket with a friend or relative? It could be the gift that keeps on giving!

Buy Nothing Day


American Thanksgiving is coming up soon. And you know what that means: big feasts followed by a mad rush for Christmas preparations. This mad rush is epitomised in the US by Black Friday, a day of unbridled shopping and incredible sales for things we don't really need.

In order to remedy this insanity, the people at Adbusters created Buy Nothing Day 20 years ago. All across industrialised nations, all manners of events are being planned to disrupt -at least for one day- excessive consumption and waste of resources. This year, on 27 November (or the 28 if you live east of North America), BND would like people to go one step further and forgo all manners of consumerism: be it using electronics and other non-essential electrical appliances (does that mean no laundry day!?!?!), leaving your car at the curb, turn off phones and cellphones. Basically, this year BND is about stopping the hemorrhage, rethinking our excesses and reconnecting with the world at large.

Every year, thousands of people like you and me participate, hoping to send the message out: we cannot go on wasting resources and laying waste to the environment. So get together with some friends, have a raw food picnic, and say no to the craziness that is Black Friday.

Mark it down on your calendars: November 27/28, Buy Nothing Day.




Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thyme is on my side...


Hello out there! I've been out enjoying this year's wonderful Indian Summer (it was 20'C in Montreal yesterday!!!) after a rather hectic week. So I haven't really thought about today's post... Sounds promising doesn't it?

First off, a few environmental groups have decided that the best way to send a clear message to our environmentally-challenged government is to call them. Equiterre and the David Suzuki Foundation are calling upon all Canadians to go to their phones and give Harper a piece of their minds. Politely, of course, wouldn't want to be un-Canadian. So, here's the number to dial: 613-992-4211. Or you can go to the David Suzuki website for more info and to sign an online letter.

Now then. I'm sure you've noticed the continent-wide panic about the second wave of swine flu - apparently in most European countries, the media have been a tad more level-headed about the whole pandemic... If you are rather unfazed about the whole event, then what follows may be of little concern to you.

There is no need to panic. Chances are that you will be no more affected by the flu this year than any other year. But while you are nervously wringing your hands waiting for your turn to get vaccinated, here is a link to some common sense advice from Greener. Other things you can do to increase your chances of sailing through the flu and cold season is to cook with lots of thyme, oregano, rosemary or savory. These herbs are high in thymol, a powerful compound known to hold down bacteria and viruses with its pinkie (if it had a pinkie). Thymol is a common ingredient in mouthwash, and has even been proven effective in fighting cold sores, so you know it works! The herbs do not need to be fresh, but they seem to be most effective if they are not greenhouse grown, so your best bet would be to head on to a farmers' market and load up on what's left of this year's crop (greenhouse grown herbs have soft green stems and are not overpoweringly perfumed). If you have some dried thyme in your spice cabinet, don't throw it out! It probably still has quite a bit of thymol left in it.

So go ahead, sprinkle your food with thyme! Your taste buds and your health will thank you.

If you have gone around the disinfection bend, please be careful of the products you use. Some commercially available surface disinfectants have been shown to be ineffective (and thus can contribute to the spawning of resistant strains), and many are extremely toxic to you and the environment. Alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are good disinfectants, but you want to stay away from both triclosan and bleach. Regular ol' white vinegar is a really effective and non-toxic bactericide, AND it can get rid of certain smells. A 5% white vinegar solution (1L of water, 50mL/4 Tbsp vinegar) makes a good all-purpose surface wipe. For an extra boost, add a couple of drops of essential oil of thyme.



Bon app' and to your health!



Monday, November 2, 2009

Oh when the Saints come marching in!


Happy All Saints Day!!!
Oh what a glorious day it was today! After the crappy All Hallows' Eve we had here in Montreal, I would bet anything that all the lost souls hanging about were quite happy to be on their way to the after-life... And we're back to regular time, so when my eyes were pried open by my hungry cats (from the meowing! They weren't actually pawing at my eyes!), I could see the sunlight streaming in from behind the curtains.

It seemed like a waste to be sleeping in on such a lovely Sunday, but I needed the extra hours of sleep to make up for my mad dash harvesting under the rain on Saturday... I was honouring the pagan roots of Hallowe'en: I have an unofficial alter to the Harvest Gods in my shed, a big stash of autumn vegetables, that will see me through the next couple of weeks, if not months!

Indeed, the fields around Montreal may seem to be barren, there are still lots of veggies to be had fresh, and lots more will be put by in storage for the coming months.

Pumpkins and other winter squashes
The rainy summer seems to have gotten the best of the winter squashes all across Canada and the northern U.S. If you went out to buy pumpkins for All Hallows' Eve, you may have noticed that the biggies were kind of hard to come by: the rain kept the bees away, which meant lower rates of pollination, which meant fewer seeds, which translates into smaller squashes. Furthermore, the cool and wet weather makes for more watery squashes, so if you are in the habit of hoarding squashes for the winter months, keep a close eye on them, because they may not keep as well as usual. However, if your squashes are in a cool and dry place, they should keep for a bit -I usually manage to keep them until the spring in my unheated guest bedroom. If you find soft spots, just cut them out and bake the squash. Baked squash can be used for soup, mash or in any number of desserts (pie, flan, crème brûlée...). It keeps well in the freezer.

I'm not sure how well this year's harvest will keep, but winter squashes are usually available from late September until early May.

Lettuce
It may not feel like the season for a green salad, but the weather would beg to differ: the cool, wet days of autumn are actually perfect for growing lettuces. In fact, most small farmers and gardeners like to sow fall greens after the summer harvest to stop the soil from eroding under the abundant autumn showers. I've noticed that most stalls at the market were still full of beautiful heads of lettuce, all at pretty much the same price they were all summer.

My garden is almost bare, except for the leftover salad greens, I'm thinking of leaving them there to see if they will survive under the snow. And most of my balcony pots have been put away for the winter, except for the salad planter: it will probably stay out until the end of November... Seriously, if you have the room for a small planter, you should really consider growing your own salad greens, it's much cheaper than buying bags of baby greens, and you'll be able to eat local salads from May to November!

Cabbages and co.
Just in case you were wondering what exactly I was harvesting on the last day of October: cabbages! I don't actually have any coles in my garden because they take too much space, but the farm I get my CSA baskets from does. Every year, near or at the end of the basket season, 'my' farm invites members to come and clean out the fields. So I went and fought against gale force winds and lashing rain, and hauled back a huge stash of cabbages, cauliflowers and collard greens!
I don't know about you, but I never really knew what collard greens were until I moved to the UK. Over on the other side of the pond, collards are called spring greens. In the UK, they are, as their name implies, available only in late-winter/early-spring. In the Southern States, collard greens are usually a winter vegetable. I knew all of the above from reading cooking and gardening books, but I still drew a blank as to what they were exactly until yesterday! Collard greens are any greens from the cabbage family. It is not one specific plant, but any and all leafage. They are hard to find in Eastern Canada, unless you grow your own cabbage or broccoli. Basically, collards are the young shoots on the plants. In the UK, mild and long springs will bring about abundant new growth on any cabbage/cauliflower/broccoli/sprout plant that has survived the winter. In the Deep South, winter is a much milder affair, so a fall sowing will provide lots of winter greens. In the northern states and most of Canada, it might be a little more difficult to overwinter coles, but it is likely do-able on the West Coast.

Local cabbages are usually available until spring. Broccoli and cauliflowers are a smaller crop in Eastern Canada, so imports start making an appearance in November.

Roots
Carrots, potatoes, beets and parsnips are familiar enough, but there are many more by ways of edible roots out there. Most root crops are particularly well suited to our growing conditions, so most provinces are fairly self-sufficient throughout most of the year. Basically, supermarkets have no excuses for buying imported bunches of beets with green in January, when bagged beets are locally available and at a quarter of the price.

Jerusalem artichokes, aka sunchokes

These gnarly looking roots are becoming increasingly popular, and are much easier to find than they were just a couple of years ago. These are the quintessential local vegetable. Even though their new found popularity began with the interest of European chefs, Jerusalem artichokes are native North Americans ('jerusalem' in this case is not a place name, but a family afiliation: girasole means sunflower in italian.) In fact, they were probably on the pilgrims' first Thanksgiving table. These tubers do not really taste of artichokes, though their texture when cooked may be similar. They can be eaten raw, sliced thinly and kept in lemon water, then used in a salad. They have a nice crunch them, somewhat like water chestnuts (but not quite, 'cuz I can eat raw sunchokes despite hating water chestnuts.) Cooked, they make a silky smooth purée which can turned into a lovely soup. Its nutty flavour is definitely enhanced by the addition of a nut oil, such as hazelnut (B.C. has a growing hazelnut/filbert industry, so try to seek out a truly local delicacy.)

The gnarly roots can be difficult to peel, so if you want to eat them raw, choose the smoother tubers. If you are going to use them cooked, the simplest way to peel them is to boil them: 3-5 minutes is enough to slip the peel off, keeping the tubers whole for use as a side dish (sautée in some butter, or roasted with a bird of some sort), or you can cook them through if you are going to make mash.

Jerusalem artichokes are the perfect winter vegetable: they keep extremely well outdoors in the ground or in cold storage (but not so well in a refrigerator -I don't think they like the company!), making them available from early October until mid-May.
A word of warning, sunchokes contain inulin, a form of starch that humans cannot digest. While this is great for diabetics who have to keep a close eye on their starch intake, it also means that chokes can be hard to digest at first. So start with small amounts and chew thoroughly.

Dahlia tubers
Okay, so dahlia tubers aren't exactly known to be a vegetable. And you're not likely to find them at any greengrocer, but if you happen to grow dahlias (any kind), then you will have lots of tubers on hand. You might want to keep them for next year, but it is likely that you have way more than you wish to keep. Well, you can always eat them. I'm not quite sure what they taste like, but apparently dahlias were first grown for food before they became the lovely hybrids they are now. The flavour of the tuber is said to change from one variety to another, so you might have to try several kinds before you find one you like.

Turnips and rutabagas
Turnips are not everyone's cup of tea, but they are staples in the winter pantry. They keep 'forever' and are extremely inexpensive. Baby turnips, boiled whole then rolled in melted butter, are a lovely side dish, or on their own on a slice of crusty bread. Bigger turnips, more likely to be found throughout the winter than the babies, must be peeled before eating, but they are also nice eaten the same way. Turnips really come into their own when roasted. They are a marvelous foil to any game meat, if you are into them.

Rutabagas, also called swedes, are yellow turnips with pretty purple shoulders. They can be eaten just like any other turnip, but being a less watery root, they are especially tasty when roasted or baked. Guy Fawkes Night is coming up on 5 November, though baked potatoes are usually associated with bonfire night in the UK, the Scots prefer their Neeps and Taties, which are simply mashed rutabaga and potatoes with lots of butter. A very scrumptious side dish indeed.

Turnips and rutabagas are likely unpopular because they lack a little in colour, but they truly make up for it in flavour! If you really are craving greenery, turnips can come to the rescue: place turnips near a sunny window, in a dish of water; change the water every two or three days, and you should be rewarded with some green growth. Turnips greens have a little kick, but they do add some zing to bland winter vegetable.

I've yet to see an imported rutabaga in Quebec, though small turnips are often imports. However, local swedes and turnips are available all over Canada and really inexpenssive, so do not pass them up. They are available year-round (yeah, it's that big a crop!) but they are best from September to early spring.

Bon app'!

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