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Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Very Productive Saturday

This week, I received my highly anticipated new cookbooks, "More-With-Less Cookbook", and "Extending The Table" . Both are chockful of simple, nutritious recipes, using basic ingredients, and the second has recipes from all over the world, from Argentina to Zimbabwe. Aside from delicious culinary delights, both books discuss the need to be selective in what we eat - basically to eat fresh, eat local and eat organic, when possible.

The two recipes I made were English muffins and Pita bread, two baked goods that are usually purchased, rather than baked from scratch at home. Well, the English muffins were a snap ! Once the dough is kneaded, and has risen, you roll and cut it into muffins, then coat them with cornmeal. And, yay! I got to use cornmeal that was made from our own heritage corn. The interesting part was that rather than being baked, Engish muffins are cooked on a hot griddle (or in my case, cast iron skillet). I confess right now, I couldn't resist. As soon as one had cooled enough, I cut it in half and slathered it with homemade strawberry jam...heaven :D

Next was the pita bread, which was also cooked differently. After the dough has risen and the bread is shaped and rolled, the bread is cooked on very hot (ie.450 F) cookie sheets for about 4 minutes. It puffs up, gets flipped and baked another 3 minutes or so. I think my cookie sheets were not preheated enough (as mentioned in the recipe) and not all of the pita breads really puffed up. Nonetheless, they all have a "pocket" and can be stuffed as a sandwich or used as a base for mini pizzas.

I actually started out my baking with the standard 3 loaves of whole grain bread I bake every week. The flour is a different mix every time I make it, but usually includes spelt flour, corn flour, ground flax seeds and whole pumpkin seeds, as well as some white flour. I mixed some grated cheddar cheese into one of them for some cheese bread to enjoy with the mushroom soup I made for lunch. Yummy!

To work up an appetite, I went outside to see how progress was being made on our new growing hoop house. Ralph and our nephew, Matthew, were hard at work getting it set up. It was larger than I thought it would be, but when I started thinking of the 100+ tomato seedlings I have growing on our windowsills, I realized that Ralph was right in installing the full size (which will be 60 feet long and 20 feet wide, when completed). The area between the hoop house and the bush will be quite a microclimate and heat sink, perfect for the melons and cucumbers I will plant there. Still lots to do before it will be ready for the plants, but I can hardly wait!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Eat Local, Eat In Season

I had a more forceful title in mind, but didn't want to scare away any readers if it was obvious I would be getting onto my soapbox ;) What I also could add would be "Food Stores, Please Stop Mis-Labelling Food!!!"

For many months, since our somewhat short-growing season here in Ontario ended, my family has had to listen to me complaining about stores mis-labelling produce. Specifically, it is the country of origin that they have been getting wrong. I can appreciate that it is not always possible to buy local (ie. Ontario) or even on a larger scale, Canadian, produce year round. However, I do want to have the choice to decide whether I want to purchase produce, and I want that choice to be based on accurate labelling.

An example would be something as simple as fresh pears. Today at the grocery store, there was a special on "produce of USA" pears. I was happy to start bagging some up, until I saw the little sticker that indicated they were from Chile. Elsewhere in the same bin were more pears with labels from South Africa. Sorry, but all the pears in my bag went back into the bin. I can justify buying pears from the USA, but to have travelled as far as Chile or South Africa? I'll just eat some of the canned Ontario pears I prepared last summer (not as crunchy, but a good substitute).

This mis-labelling happens time and time again, even when it is pointed out to the store owners. I was once told that if there is a sale on, and there isn't enough produce from the feature country of origin available, the stores are allowed to substitute with produce from elsewhere. I have no problem with that. Just let me know that's what you're doing, by changing your signage! It's getting to the point where I don't even look at the price sign, but look for the telltale stickers. Last week, asparagus marked as "produce of Peru" actually came from Mexico, and red peppers marked as "produce of Canada" came from Spain. I would really like to see some sort of reprimanding or fining happening at the store, or even chain, level. I know, I know, "caveat emptor", ie. buyer beware, but why bother with signs if they aren't even accurate?, I'm stepping down from my soapbox and cooling off.....

Eating locally and eating in season is a much happier subject. I really feel that we, as consumers, have been spoiled rotten by having virtually any food (produce) available to us year round. Not only have we been spoiled, but we are enabling and justifying the thousands of miles many of these foodstuffs are travelling to make it to our grocery stores,and eventually, to our tables. Now before you accuse me of being naive, or teaching me about the "global" economy, I will point out that I am aware of all of that. Lately, there has been such an emphasis on everything "green", I am really surprised that it hasn't been extended to our food supply, too.

Let's face it, being able to eat fresh asparagus in March, or fresh peaches and grapes in the cold of February is quite delightful - if you choose to. Of course, it all depends on where you live. If you are in California, or any southern climate, you are more likely to be able to buy many of this produce virtually year round. But for us here in Southern Ontario, I suggest we start to eat in season. That means asparagus is enjoyed and eaten with gusto in May and June, strawberries by the end of June, and peaches and grapes in late summer. If you take the time and effort to put some of this food away for the winter, either frozen, canned or dehydrated, then you can also enjoy it out of season.

And what about enjoying the foods that ARE available in the winter months, as our parents did. Up here in Canada, winter means meals based around hearty root vegetables such as beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots, rutabagas and turnips, as well as red and green cabbage. I won't be a hypocrite and say I never veer out of season...I enjoy my citrus fruits (but mainly buy them in the winter months, when they are in season in the States), and I also buy boxed organic greens (spinach and spring greens) that have probably travelled a significant distance. But I do try to balance those purchases by eating locally, and in season.

Last summer, I sold a fabulous cookbook at the farmer's market, called "Simply in Season". I use it almost every week, as it is chock full of nutritious and delicious recipes, using produce as it is available in every season. This year, I will also be selling "Saving the Seasons", which gives instructions for preserving foods in many different ways, to enjoy throughout the year. This means that we can put away food from our own gardens, but to also take advantage of the bounty that is available within our community. Last year, I purchased raspberries, blueberries, peaches and pears, and froze or canned them. We are still enjoying all of this delicious Ontario produce in our pancakes, smoothies and baking. Yes, it's alot of work, but oh, so rewarding in January!

I feel so much better, getting this all of my chest, thank you....I think I'll go help my daughter make some smoothies for desert, using organic local yogurt and some yummy frozen Ontario berries!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Things are Growing....

Yes, indeed, with the Spring Equinox coming up, there is a primeval tug on everyone and everything...time to start waking up, time to start growing, time to start moving! The geese have returned to our neighbourhood and all the birds are more vocal as they prepare for their spring concert ;)

While Nature continues here as she has for year after year, many of us are watching the tragedy unfolding on the other side of the world, in Japan . We can only hope and pray that some sort of balance will be restored there once more. The loss of life and physical upheaval is so staggering - we should all focus on sending our healing thoughts and prayers to that corner of our Earth. Please do what you can...

As mentioned in my last post, we have been really enjoying my birthday gifts. The sprouter has grown everything from alfalfa (mild and crunchy), to radish (very, very peppery/sharp) to a salad blend (still growing).

I sprouted some wheat seeds of our own, then when I saw how quickly the roots were developing, I transplanted the whole mat to a pot. This way, I can get several cuttings of the green shoots and make wheat grass juice. The first "harvest" yielded a meagre ounce of juice, but when I added an apple to the juicer, it made a glassful for me to share with Ralph! It tastes a bit like licking the lawnmower, so maybe a few more fruits blended in with the next one ;) There are some sunflower seeds on the go now, too, which I think I will transplant onto some soil as well, so I can get some larger, juicy sunflower sprouts (my absolute favourite!)

Some of the seeds I purchased last month are now growing, too. It is SO exciting to see that little shimmer of the green seedling, pushing it's way up. I used a variety of growing containers: peat pellets (which expand when hydrated) are great for plants I know I will be transplanting, such as tomatoes, a soil-less growing medium in larger trays or peat containers for my basil, leeks, onions and stevia . I'm really looking forward to growing the stevia, will keep my fingers crossed that the tiny sprigs of green that have just germinated will grow into healthy plants. The trays all needed to be covered to help with the germination, so I used the large plastic boxes I buy my organic greens and spinach in as lids for plastic rectangular storage containers - it works well. Now, our windowsills are starting to get filled up with trays of seedlings ;) Here are some fledgling heirloom tomato plants.

They may look tiny now, but in a few weeks, they will be ready to transplant to larger pots and I'll update with a new picture!

Ralph has also been preparing for spring planting. Last summer, he grew some beautiful varieties of open-pollinated field corn. When it was mature, he walked his fields and hand-selected the cobs he wanted to save for seed for this year. He recently acquired a cob sheller that removes the seed from the cob - pretty slick! Here are some pictures to show it at work. I have been using some of this corn when I grind grains (wheat, flax, rye) for baking our bread every week. It adds a delightfully sweet smell and flavour to the bread.

Well that's about it for this update - I would love to hear about your spring plans, whether you're tapping maple trees (like my Maine friends ;) or still pondering the seed catalogues. I'll leave you with a quote by Robin Williams, the actor and comedian:

Spring is Nature's way of saying, "Let's party!"