Thursday, April 29, 2010

Send a clear message to the Royal Bank

I've had a long standing beef against the Royal Bank of Canada. It dates back to my university years when I joined every anti-corporate campaign I could, so I don't actually remember what it was all about. But a whole decade later, the RBC is back in the picture.

I am quite sure that the 1990s' campaign had to do with dubious investments touted by the RBC, and lo and behold! dirty investments are rearing their ugly heads again. "[The Royal Bank of Canada had been singled out by the Rain Forest Action Network as] the biggest single global investor [of the Alberta tar sands], to the tune of $17 billion since 2007" (New Internationalist, April 2010). 

Yes, folks, I am talking money again. While I understand that picking one's investments apart to look at the nitty-gritty can be time consuming and way more information than one would want to deal with, perhaps it is time we take our heads out of the sand and take a good look at our assets. I cannot believe that any of you truly feels comfortable about retiring with what amounts to dirty money.

Most of us cannot control where our employers choose to invest our pension money, but we decide where we put our savings. If you have a bank account with the Royal Bank, perhaps you would consider telling them you are very unhappy that they are financing the Alberta tar sands with your savings and are considering taking your money elsewhere. As individuals, we are small potatoes for the bank, but if there is a big enough number of RBC customers who voice their intent to move their money, perhaps CEO Gord Nixon will reconsider investing in the tar sands.

If you are not an RBC client (yay for you!), perhaps you can bring the subject up with the bank manager the next time you are there: you've entrusted your savings with them, therefore you have the right to know what they do with them.  Tell them you want to make sure that your money is not going towards financing industries you deem to be dirty. You've made every effort to live cleaner and greener, and you want your money to be the same.

It seems unlikely that the current Canadian government will do anything to stop the tar sands developments, so our only chance to save face as Canadians is to put pressure on corporations. 

Maybe you're asking yourself if you should be getting your financial advice from a food blogger... To those queries I answer that I am just like you. I have loads of things I would rather do than grill my financial advisor at the bank. Personally, I would rather not have to think about it, I've enough on my hands as it is. But whenever I see my nephew and my friends' young children, I like knowing that I am doing my utmost to leave them a clean planet. How I spend my money - on local produce, organic and fairtrade foods- and where I spend my money -in ethical and green investments- are just about the only way I can contribute, everything else is out of my hands.

Monday, April 26, 2010

At the market...

West Coast morels are in! And what lookers they are!

Quebec morels are supposedly a week or two away from popping up: one has been spotted yesterday by an experienced forager. How exciting... What with New Brunswick lobster season opening this week, and the Quebec one to follow in a week or two... Lobster with morels, oh heaven!

In the meantime, there is still a week or two left for Atlantic snow crabs. 

Quotas for snow crab were lowered this year, so prices are not where one's wallet would like. However, the crabs are so flavourful, a little goes a long way. If you feel up to it, cooking your own crab will ensure it is done to your liking, but most fish mongers and supermarkets will have cooked crabs for sale. I've never actually cooked snow crabs myself as I do not own a pot big enough to fit one, so if you do decide to attempt it, ask your fish monger for advice.

Snow crab has the most tender flesh and is absolutely succulent. You can go all fancy and make a complex dish with it, but simple really is best: a pile of legs and some lemony mayonnaise, or a nice little salad. Like most shellfish, snow crab is beautiful with peas and tomatoes, both of which are not exactly in season right now up where I live... Frozen, petite peas are perfect for this recipe, and greenhouse cherry tomatoes are just sweet enough to complement the crab. I happened to have a jar of roasted cherry tomatoes, so I used those. I chose to drizzle mayonnaise around the crab, so that one could gauge the amount of mayo in each biteful. It also makes for a pretty dish with little effort.

Crab Salad
 For one, as a starter

3 medium snow crab legs
3 Tbs frozen peas -petite or fancy sized are sweetest
4 cherry tomatoes, quartered, or a heaping spoonful of roasted tomatoes
a few sprigs of chives, chopped

Shell crab legs: snow crabs have soft shells, but they do require some tools for cracking. Scissors or a sharp knife are best, as nut crackers merely crush the legs. Cut lengthwise and pry open to scrape out the flesh.
Briefly boil the peas to cook through, they should take about 2 minutes. Drain, and cool under running water or in an ice bath.
Mix all other ingredients with the crab meat.
Taste for seasoning. This salad should not need any salt, as the crab will be salty enough, however you might want to add pepper.
Make a neat, little pile in the centre of a plate, and drizzle with roasted pepper mayonnaise. ( You can use a ring mould to shape a tower, or even a shot glass.)

Roasted Pepper Mayonnaise
Yields ½ cup, enough for 4 and some leftover

¼ c mayonnaise
(homemade or from a jar)
½ roasted pepper

Blend together until smooth.

You can adapt this recipe to any shellfish, tweaking it a bit as the season changes: lobster, peas and sautéed morels; northern shrimps, cherry tomatoes, scallions... The possibilities are endless!

Bon app'!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

While I was waiting....

 It seems like spring is definitely here to stay.. For the second year in a row, the vernal season in Montreal is long and drawn out, and it is quite vivifying!

While I know that it is still too early to be planting out my tomato seedlings, I cannot help but feel the urge to dig my fingers into warm soil. I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel last week, and I've emerged from the miasma that is work, so now I can afford to spend a couple of hours at the end of my day with my hands knuckle-deep in the garden.

The farmers' stands in Montreal are still filled with winter crops yet my taste buds are aching for peas and asparagus. I have to wait, though I did break down last week and bought some Californian peas... They were not quite as good as fresh picked from the garden, but the shelling made it worthwhile!

I check my asparagus bed daily, hoping to find one poking through the thick layer of compost. I know it's still early, but I'm holding my breath. I also keep a close eye on my peas: I've seen  Ms Molly lurking about, and I worry she will attempt to jump my barriers... She has kept away from my garden so far, I think the scent of cat is scaring her off.
My rhubarb is almost ready to pick, which is rather exciting. My mouth just waters at the thought of its sharp bite... There might just be enough to make a nice pie or crumble.

Meanwhile, I'm still craving something fresh and new for spring, yet my fridge is bare except for a couple of wizened beets and a Mason jar full of sprouts. And I am hungry right now. Beets are out of the question, I do not want to deal with them tonight, so sprouts it is. 

It looks silly when written down black on white, but it has never before occurred to me to make hummus out of sprouts. I don't know why I never tried it... It's quicker than making regular hummus from scratch, probably more nutritious than using canned chickpeas, and it definitely beats store bought. It's a win-win situation all-round, especially if one is beginning to tire of sprout salads and stir-fries.

I used a 'crunchy bean mix' for my sprout-hummus, but I am sure that any sprouts will do, as long as it is at least 50% beans or peas. I have an inkling that sunflower sprouts (raw) with sprouted chickpeas would be scrumptious. Your standard hummus recipe will work, if you've never made hummus before, a recipe follows. You might not be able to get Sprouted Hummus to be as smooth as regular hummus, but it will be mighty tasty. 

Sprouted Hummus
Yields about 3 cups (750mL)

2 cups (1 Mason jar-full) sprouts
2 lemons, juiced and zested or ¼ cup (4 Tbs) mild vinegar (white wine, rice or cider)
1 tsp cumin seeds or ½ tsp ground cumin (optional)
2 Tbs water
1 clove garlic (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
2 heaping tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)  
Ras el Hanout (Moroccan spice mix) or chili powder/hot paprika for garnish
Olive oil

If you are using bean, lentil or pea sprouts, you will need to steam them for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.
In a blender, purée sprouts, lemon juice and zest (or vinegar), cumin seeds and garlic if using, until as smooth as possible.  Add the water if you are having trouble blending everything.
Add tahini and give it a whirl.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, pour in a bowl or deep dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with Ras el Hanout.
Dip in with pita bread or veggie sticks, or use as a sandwich spread.

Bon app'!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day. 

Things have changed in forty years: the state of the world has considerably worsened, however, the green movement is now mainstream, no longer relegated to fringe groups and back to the landers. The world has changed, but the stakes remain the same: we all need to do more than our fair share to clean up our act.

I've thought a lot about today's post, I've mentally written several drafts, while drowning under an all too heavy work load. Then I got a call from London. The sky was blue, and the sun was out all week-end, one would have never known there was a cloud of toxic ashes looming overhead, were it not for the fact that there was no aerial noise, and the streets of London were eerily empty. The previous week was a holiday in the UK, and many Londoners were stuck in airports abroad. As was a lot of food: restaurants and supermarkets in the UK were beginning to see a food shortage at the beginning of the week. Food growers in Africa and the Netherlands were stuck with overstock that could not be shipped out.

The effects of the ash cloud were not as drastic in North America. In fact, unless you had travel plans or work in that sector, you were most likely quite unaffected by the whole event. So what's it all have to do with Earth Day and food? Quite a lot.

Eating local is all about reducing one's food miles; supporting small producers; living more sustainably... It is also about food security. The North American food chain was pretty much unaffected by the ash cloud -unless you are an aficionado of super fine greenbeans from Kenya- but it could have been. Buying your food from a  local farmer, demanding that your supermarket purchases more local produce will not only reduce your food's carbon footprint, it will help a local farmer stay in business.

Eating local does not need to be a whole lifestyle, it can be a tiny adjustment to your daily life, just like recycling and composting. It can be as easy as buying local greenhouse produce instead of imported. If you are a little more committed to living green, you can grow a portion of your own food or join a CSA.

Make every day Earth Day. Eat local.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Grow, grow, grow your food...

I can't believe it's almost halfway through April already!!! Things at work have have been crazy hectic, and I haven't had time to think about feeding myself, let alone a blog post... 

I have missed you! I don't know about you, but ever since I started writing this blog, I've had to seriously think about the food I put in my shopping basket: no more random spouting off about eating local and seasonal, I've had to mean what I write. There have been digressions  -we do live in a northerly country with severe winters and bare fields after all- but all in all I have been 'good'. I steer away from tomatoes in December; I haven't even bought canned tomatoes for myself in over a year (I did buy some for food baskets -but only because I wasn't sure they would accept home-canned tomatoes...). Right now, those homegrown cans of tomatoes are literally saving my life as I haven't had time to saunter over to the supermarket (even less so to the market!)

All this to say, if I had the time to wash my windows, now would be the perfect time to grow a window box-full of spring salads. The picture above was taken the day before a curious (*!**"@&&) squirrel decided to check out the seedlings and unearthed the whole lot. As you can see, despite the chilly nights, lettuces, spinach and roquette seeds sprout easily at this time of the year. Just don't set your planters out on the balcony just yet! Wait until there is more food growing about, otherwise you're likely to have a nasty surprise one early morning.

Salad bars are really easy to grow yourself, even without an overly sunny window. All you need is a container of sort with holes on the bottom for drainage, some sterile potting medium (a soil-less mix is best for seed starting), and a dish to catch any excess water (wouldn't want to ruin a carpet or a hardwood floor for salad!) Oh, and seeds. It's still too early to buy sets (pre-grown plants, ready to put into the ground), and seeds are cheaper anyway. Most salad plants have short roots, so you don't even need a very deep pot, as long as you have at least 15cm (6") of depth.

Now is the time to be buying seeds. They are available almost everywhere, though you will have the biggest choice in a plant nursery or a hardware store. Spinach, radishes and arugula are really easy crops to grow, as are most lettuces. If you are a beginner container-gardener, go for loose-leaf lettuces: they do not form a tight head (like romaine or iceberg lettuces) and are quite forgiving plants. You can also get mixed greens packets, some of which are really interesting gustatorially.

To get started, wet the planting medium with warm water until it resembles a squeezed out sponge. If you overwater the mix, no worries: just squeeze it out like a sponge! Do not use compost unless you plan to sterilize it in the oven before using. Compost is a godsend to all plant life, except for little seeds. If you absolutely want to use compost for your salad bar, you can start the seeds in little containers (reuse egg cartons, or the clamshell boxes some veggies come in) filled with a sterile mix; once the seedlings have a set of true leaves you can plant them into compost. 

Fill your pot with the wet mix, leaving about 3 cm (± 1") at the top. Don't press down too hard on the soil, as plants don't like putting down their roots in compact spots. Using your finger or an unsharpened pencil, make shallow dents (0.5 cm/ ½") in the soil, spacing them out at about 3cm intervals. In each dent, place a tiny pinch of seeds and cover with a pinch of soil. Leave your pot near a window, it needn't be the sunniest one, but it mustn't be completely devoid of light. If your heat hasn't been turned off yet, and you happen to have a heater near a window, that would be an ideal spot. Within a few days, you should start to notice some activity in your pot. 

Your salad bar should be ready to harvest when the plantlets are about 8cm (3") high. Use scissors to shear them down by half, and enjoy a home grown salad. A week or two later, the salads will ready for a second haircut. You can get one or two more harvests after that, then you can leave the pot out on the balcony for squirrels to rummage through.

Have fun, and bon app'!

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