Saturday, August 22, 2009

To Farm or Not to Farm

No time for a full meal, but here's a little excerpt from a great Time magazine article to chew on:

A transition to more sustainable, smaller-scale production methods could even be possible without a loss in overall yield, as one survey from the University of Michigan suggested, but it would require far more farmworkers than we have today. With unemployment approaching double digits — and things especially grim in impoverished rural areas that have seen populations collapse over the past several decades — that's hardly a bad thing. Work in a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) is monotonous and soul-killing, while too many ordinary farmers struggle to make ends meet even as the rest of us pay less for food. Farmers aren't the enemy — and they deserve real help. We've transformed the essential human profession — growing food — into an industry like any other. "We're hurting for job creation, and industrial food has pushed people off the farm," says Hahn Niman. "We need to make farming real employment, because if you do it right, it's enjoyable work."

It's intriguing to think about farming as a future career. It's definitely not what I dreamed of as a kid, but I can't deny that I love plants. I recently read an inspirational story of a Burnaby man who's making a go of a 1-man salad greens growing operation. Makes you wonder if a green roof and a solarium or two could grow what it takes to keep a small cafe or lunch spot in the produce...

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Passage to India

Unfortunately, despite living in Vancouver and loving Indian food, I have not yet been to Vij's, one of the most celebrated Indian restaurants in the world. I have tried a few of his sauces and recipes to great effect, but that's neither here nor there.

But this insanely awesome press release sure caught my fancy - the part of me that would love to travel back in time and visit India or Egypt as they once were. Imagine getting to explore the Rajasthan area with one of the great chefs of our time, staying in out of the way historical areas and learning about the local food and culture and traditions of food collecting and preparation. 

"An over night picnic on thoroughbred Marwari horses to a remote village culminating in outdoor cooking with villagers, retiring in luxury tents, and perchance, participating in an elephant polo match are just some of the extraordinary highlights of this tour. "

My rebuttal: *drooooooooool*

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fruits of the day

So we went to the market again yesterday morning, for the fresh local stuff. Meeting all the area farmers is inspiring, and one of the most outstanding parts is being able to bypass certain purchases because I already have that item I need in my own garden. 

Picked up (as you can see) couple of peaches, pears, three tomatillos and a dark, pointy tomato. Hmmm? What's that other thing? Oh, uhhh, that's just my giant hammer. I heard there might be some zombies around, so I thought I should probably be packing some heat. 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomato

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the Mortgage Lifter tomato. While this particular tomato is actually a slightly more modern bicolored variant, the Mortgage Lifter was allegedly developed during the Great Depression in the early 30's by a radiator repairman named M.C. "Radiator Charlie" Byles, trying to make an extra buck.

Although never formally trained, he successfully crossbred 4 of his favourite large-tomato-producing plants until he came up with this stable cultivar, marketed as being able to feed a family of six. And people drove from miles away to buy the plants at a dollar per plant.

And within (depending on which version you believe) four or six years, he had his $6000 mortgage paid in full. Thus - the Mortgage Lifter.

It's tough to judge the scale from these photos, but the above specimen has already provided for four big sandwiches, and been bitten by one ravenous Anna, and it's still more than 50% there. Family of six indeed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Multimedia Bacon

I'm a supporter of the idea of enjoying food vicariously... I mean, some of my favourite writing is food writing. Not only does this give you the pleasure of the surrogate experience, it can also encourage you to do something new and unusual with your regular meals. 

All this by way of saying - HOLY SAINT ANTHONY!! Look what my sous-chef Savage Henry Lee cooked up today down at Starry Industries! A video-film of some delicious bacon!! From frying pan to plate.

**Special thanks for editing out that part in the video where I started singing South Park's "Do What You Wanna Do". aheheh. 

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Mighty Cuke

Just a quick note to say: hey everybody! Look at my enormous cucumber! 
Awwwwww yeahhhh! That's right!

(lower right hand side)


Saturday, August 8, 2009

oh yeah, speaking of BACON!

We made bacon & egg & tomato sammiches for lunch. They were grrrrreat. The tomato was one of the great-smelling heritage guys I picked up today. Picked up and then dropped onto the street after trying to juggle too much produce. So we had to use it pronto. 

I cooked the ill-fated tomato on lowish heat in large wedges in a few knobs of butter, trying not to poke it too much. Added the eggs, which poach/fry nicely in the tomatoey butter sauce. If you're worried the eggs are going to stick, add a couple more little knobs of butter into the pan, where you will be putting the eggs. 

Over easy, garnished with some fleur de sel and a few leaves of arugula, on lightly mayo'd bagels.

With bacon. Always, bacon. 

Mmmmm quality BACON!

When I first bought some of this bacon from the farmer's market a month ago, I fell head over heels in love. Gelderman Farms is in Abbotsford, BC and is a family-run farm. The pigs live in these nice uncrowded naturally ventilated & lit pens. Also, the Gelderman family actually blend their own feedstock for the pigs right on their farm with all vegetable components. Which, y'know... is pretty reassuring, knowing what I know about what most corporations will do to save a buck. 

(Also, the Geldermans totally recycle all the sawdust the pigs sleep in into compost for all kinds of gardening... which is pretty creative and awesome.)

My secret recipe for cooking bacon... just stir it up in a cast iron frying pan. Don't worry about laying it in strips. It'll all cook eventually. It does help to have a fabulous enameled cast iron frying pan, mind you. 

Works every time. And let me tell you, this bacon is absolutely incredible. Sweet, crispy, chewy, perfectionary. I heartily endorse this product, and/or service. 

  • Aug 15 - Location Not Decided Yet
  • Aug 19 - Main St. Station at Thronton Park
  • Aug 22 - Trout Lake Farmers Market
  • Aug 22 - Abbotsford Farmers' Market
  • Aug 29 - Haney Farmers Market, Maple Ridge

Friday, August 7, 2009

Pasta Primavera with Arugula

Welcome to part 3 of my ongoing recipe series. Today we're making pasta sauce with whatever veggies and things in the fridge need to be used up. This sauce smells out of this world. I encourage you to reheat your leftovers in very public places, thus torturing everyone around you with the fact that they don't have any.

First, cook up some diced onion (at least half an onion) in a bit of butter until golden. Because the zucchini takes a little bit to fry up, I added it in before the garlic. Once the zucchini is looking done-ish, add some chopped garlic if you've got it, chopped salami and the carrots.

These just happen to be the veggies I had left over from the farmer's market. As I said, any ingredients are optional, feel free to use what you've got. If you have soft things like peppers, I'd put them in at the very very end so as not to overcook them. Added note: I find all this works better when you use a cast iron saucepan to cook in, rather than aluminum.

And then it's time for the magic - turn the heat down a bit and add a bigass dollop of cream cheese. mmmmmmm. This stuff will melt, but you will need to stir it with vigor in order to get the lumps out of the sauce. Add lots of milk at this stage too, to thin out the cheese and help with incorporating it into the sauce.

Get some pasta on the go. We got penne, as it's great for sucking up lots of sauce.

Some chopped garden chives to go in at the very last minute.

Because my patio garden is so small, I always end up with more seedlings than planting space. Often I'll just stick the extras in a bit of dirt in one of these black tubs you get seedling in for transplanting - and they'll often thrive in these cramped conditions. I harvested a few dozen little arugula leaves from these pots to garnish our pasta dish.

The peppery bite of arugula really cuts through the creamy sauce, and it's the perfect combination with Parmigiano-Reggiano (I'm a total parmesan snob). If you get your timing right and ganbatte (work real hard), you can often crank this dinner out in about 20 minutes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tomato-watch Today!

BEHOLD! One of the new couple of tomatoes starting to form on my happy little tomato plant. Thus bringing my total number of  tomatoes to three!! I LOVE to count tomatoes. Mwah hah haaa.   

Tomato prime is looking fat and healthy. Is very exciting.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Chicken Salad, a la Wa

This one is for my grandmother, who gained the name Wa when my eldest cousin Simon started speaking. When I visited her last, we made a very similar chicken salad to the one I describe below, which was awesome. She's well known in her group of friends for a series of trademark delicious recipes, several of which I have now gotten her to teach me how to make. 

So last night I made the most basic, most delicious chicken salad sandwiches for dinner. Ingredients: half a roasted organic chicken (light and dark meats), a small head of celery, some mayo, and garnished with a few slices of cucumber. Also, salt and pepper. Chop, mix, spread on sandwiches. 

I like making simple recipes, and not just because I'm lazy. When you have delicious fresh ingredients, cooking something that's too busy or overpoweringly flavoured can be gilding the lily (or as Edgar Wright would say, over-egging the pudding). I wanted to really taste the celery, which is the first full head of celery I've harvested from my garden, so I made a meal where the celery was one of the starring attractions. 

Funny celery story - apparently my celery plants are home to a few dozen families of little grey spiders. They were none too happy when I uprooted their green condo, and I have a few bites to prove it. I'm rather proud of myself for handling it so well when I realized that the sensation of little spiders running all over me was actually the sensation of little spiders running all over me

I also caved and picked the first little tiny cucumber from my garden. It never got any bigger than my ring finger, but it was starting to look a bit off, so I picked it rather than let it die a slow death (bonus, because the other cukes on that vine pretty much doubled in size over the night). My sous-chef Hank actually dropped the cucumber when he first tried to pick it up because he didn't realize the spikes covering the fruit would be so pointy. 

Monday, August 3, 2009

Yeah, how about THESE tomatoes?

Heritage. Organic. Local. Cherry tomatoes. O farmers market, I love you. Check these babies out, you NEVER see any of these varieties in the supermarket. The round yellow ones are almost translucent, and supersweet and soft. And do you see those dark ones? You'd think they were cherries or something. All the varieties except the little orange ones are heritage. They've still even got some field dirt on 'em.

Heritage, or heirloom plants are an interesting topic for me because of my background with plant biology. I mean, I'm all for maintaining and increasing genetic diversity, and that's what heritage cultivars are all about. Also, heirloom plants can often be more disease resistant and easy to grow in local conditions, because they have adapted over the years to the particular stresses and challenges of their environment. The novelty of getting to sample unusual varieties of fruits and vegetables is another big factor in my purchase of heritage produce.

I read an article recently which had some interesting points which are not often discussed when it comes to local food. Rather than think only about how far your food has travelled, the author suggests that we should also consider how efficiently it was grown, the amount of time and resources that went into its production, the amount of CO2 produced in the plant's full lifespan. While I find this interesting to consider, I think that even though some varieties are less efficient to grow, they are worth saving anyhow.

Personally, I would much rather subsidize someone on a family farm struggling to grow the same varieties that his great-grandfather did, than someone planting a monoculture of Monsanto Roundup Ready 2 Yield(TM) soybeans. But I can understand how the Federal Government might consider the latter a much better bet than the former. Western society has already gone so far down the road of growing only the most efficient, high-yield, transportable, truck-ripening of plants, there is no coming back. In the meantime, I don't think there is any harm in trying to support local, heritage farmers the only way we can - with our grocery-buying dollars.

One thing you cannot deny - heritage tomatoes have some damned awesome names. Hillbilly, Green Zebra (not a true heritage tomato btw., est. 1983), Abraham Lincoln, Dwarf Champion, Banana Legs. Maybe I'll become a heritage-tomato-spotter or something.

*Note: the 7 little fruits in the upper right hand corner of the top photo are actually tiny plums, not cherry tomatoes.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Quesadillas De Flor De Calabaza

I usually end up doing some research on the plants I pick up to grow, and I was fascinated to read that in Mexico, the squash or zucchini blossom is sometimes considered more desirable for the kitchen than the squash fruit itself. Since other cultures usually have much to teach us, and since I had a surplus of zucchini flowers on my two plants, I figured I ought to try out one of the most popular and traditional recipes, quesadillas de flor de calabaza. 

And Madre de Dios, am I glad I did! These were some of the greatest quesadillas I've ever eaten. I pretty much made this recipe, with a few substitutions. I didn't have any fresh chiles around the house, so I used jalapeno jack cheese, which added some spice. And without access to epazote (an anisey traditional mexican green), I had to substitute some arugula and chopped cilantro. 
So in the above photos, the filling is fried local walla walla onion - cooked until golden, then you add a diced clove of local garlic, cook for 1 more minute then add a diced heritage tomato, cook for 1 more minute then add the squash blossoms and wilt them for about a minute and a half. And that's it! For each quesadilla, spread out a big spoonful of the filling, some grated cheese and some of the greens, fold over and fry flat in a pan with a touch of oil. 

I was surprised at how meaty and thick the petals were. The taste was really out of this world! This was also one of the first meals this year where I was able to use 100% local vegetables, some from no farther away than my own back yard. I'm working on some kind of ratio system for tracking the percentage of ingredients in my meals that are sustainable, but I'm still working out the details of the equation. Keep you posted!