Tuesday, November 19, 2013

(Guest Post-Suzanne) Confessions of a Foodie Sinner

I don't know what's gotten into me lately. 

I am a foodie. A Foodie with a capital F. I love trying fun new foods. I eat it all. 

(Well, almost all. My husband's delight in organ meats and odd bits kind of is my limit, and I think that raw celery was invented as a medieval form of torture). 

I dislike diet crazes. I rolled my eyes very hard at Atkins years ago. There is something wrong, to my mind, with a diet where you can't have carrots, but you can have all the bacon you want. 

The latest craze of gluten-free makes me irrationally annoyed. The comedian Chris Rock correctly pointed out that nobody in, say, Ethiopia, was lactose intolerant and that they'd be glad to eat a little gluten, you know, when your daily diet often consists of nothing. If the choice is between a loaf of whole wheat bread and rhabdomyolysis, what would you choose?

Of course I know about celiac disease, but there is a difference between that and avoiding gluten for vaguely defined 'health reasons'.  A smart doctor I know told me that removing wheat from your diet will certainly change how you are feeling, but if you remove anything from your diet it will have the same effect. Poor gluten has just become the latest culprit of food fear. 

Every time I talk about this, people come forward insisting that being gluten-free has changed their lives for the better, and hey, whatever floats your boat. But it seems rather a first-world indulgence to me still when you don't have celiac. I once said that the next time the dog decided to eat cat poop out of the garden, I'd be sure to knock on the cat owner's door and ensure that the cat was gluten-free. 

I recently read a horribly bizarre and sad pediatric case study where a 3-year-old child was fed nothing but bison meat, salicylate-free vegetables (whatever the hell those are), and chickpea milk, based on the idea that she had food allergies by her crazy parents, who hadn't actually taken her to a doctor or had allergy testing done. Said child turned up in an ER someplace with eye pain, was diagnosed immediately with corneal ulcers because of a severe vitamin A deficiency, had to have corneal transplants, and the hospital had to involve the child welfare authorities because her parents were determined to keep her from eating normally. This is a 3-year-old child in North America. It's horrifying. 

This is why food fad diets frighten me. If this is what it leads to, there is something really, really wrong with how we perceive food and how it affects us. 

That isn't to say I don't pay attention to what I eat; I do. Those of you who have read my goofy postings here know that I am a champion of local eating, of real food, of knowing where your food comes from and what goes into it, of eating meat that is raised as humanely as possible without hormones or antibiotics. This is why I have been a member of Linda's CSA for so long; there is such a difference in real garden food versus the anemic stuff they haul up from Mexico. 

That said, I can only be described as indulgent when it comes to food. I like cupcakes, and cheese, and pizza, and roast beef. I don't take good care of myself when it comes to food; not because I eat bad food, but because I'm just indulgent with the things I eat even if they are made from great ingredients. I will wholeheartedly admit that. 

There is also the fact that we like fun food, and go to places like The Home of the Brave (http://www.thehotb.com/) for dinner on a day trip to Toronto, where we ate homemade tater tots, crab cakes, broccoli and grits with mushroom gravy and smoked cheese sauce, and vanilla-bourbon red velvet funnel cake, to name a few dishes. 

I mean, it was delicious. And yet, somehow my appetite for such things has recently vanished. Perhaps it's the fact that I turn 39 soon, perhaps it's that I'm woefully inactive. Perhaps it is even everybody's favourite culprit, gluten. But, I feel rotten and slow, and tired, and my appetite for heavy, sugary, fatty things is suddenly gone. Suddenly I crave vegetables and water, small meals and apples for dessert. 

Like I said, I don't know what's gotten into me. But because I am overweight and feel gross, it's time to carpe the hell out of diem and make dietary changes before I hit the big 4-0. I think I owe that to myself. It doesn't mean I'll never hit the food trucks or start being paleo, by any stretch of the imagination, but it does mean it's time to try something else diet wise and do things right for a change. I'm not going to do any crazy food diets, but I am just going to eat better and get more active, and a big part of that is getting more vegetables into me. 

Since I've taken a swipe or two at kale in the past as well as gluten, here is a gluten-free and kale recipe to atone for my past foodie sins. This is from Dolly and Oatmeal (http://www.dollyandoatmeal.com/)by way of the Sprouted Kitchen (http://www.sproutedkitchen.com/).

| makes 10 cakes |   
inspired by Sprouted Kitchen
  • 1 spaghetti squash, cut lengthwise 
  • 1 cup purple kale, ribs removed and roughly chopped   
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 small-medium shallots, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup oat flour (ground from gluten free rolled oats in a food processor)
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional) 
  • neutral oil for greasing baking pan (grapeseed works the best here)
*also needed: a clean tea towel or cheesecloth to wring out squash
  • 1 ripe avocado, pitted
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (more or less depending on how creamy you want it) 
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 medium shallot (or ~2 tablespoons chopped red onion) 
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
  • salt to taste
  • ~3-4 tablespoons water, to thin consistency

make the cakes
  • preheat oven to 400° and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  cut the squash in half, lengthwise and scrape out the seeds (reserve seeds for toasting! totally optional, but also totally yum).  brush the flesh with olive oil and place face down onto the baking sheet.  bake for 35-40 minutes until knife-tender.  remove squash from oven and let it cool to room temperature (about 30 minutes.  this is a good time to prep the rest of your ingredients)
  • preheat the oven back to 400°.  once the squash is cool, use a fork to scrape the flesh into long strands.  one half at a time, place the scraped squash strands into a clean tea towel (or cheesecloth) and wring out as much liquid as possible (i was actually amzed how much liquid the spaghetti squash contains!).  place wrung out squash in a large bowl and repeat with the other half.  place chopped kale, cilantro, shallots and garlic in the bowl with the squash and mix until thoroughly combined.  add egg and combine once more. set aside
  • in a separate bowl, combine the oat flour, ground flaxseed, salt, baking powder, chili powder, cumin and cayenne (if using) .  pour the dry ingredients into the kale and squash mixture, and mix.  set aside
  • oil a large rimmed baking sheet.  using a 1/4 cup measure, pack it almost to the top and press the cake mixture into the cup measure to make compact.  turn measure over and tap out onto the palm of your hand.  place on oiled baking sheet, use the back of the measure, or your fingers, and press the cake down just a bit (it should be just under an inch thick).  repeat with the rest of the mixture until you have 10 cakes  
  • place baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake for 20 minutes, rotating halfway through.  at the end of 20 minutes take cakes out of oven and flip them over to brown the other side.  place back in the oven for 5 additional minutes.  remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.  let the cakes cool for about 5 minutes, or eat them at room temperature.  top with avocado sriracha sauce and garnish with cilantro
  • store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days
make the avocado sriracha sauce
  • place all ingredients in a small food processor and blend until desired consistency.  (you made need more water depending on how thin you want the sauce.)

I have no idea how this will go, but all I can do is try. I'll keep you posted. If you want to make this recipe, I am sure Linda's hoophouse will have some kale for you soon. It's a good recipe to tide you over in the long winter months when the ground is frozen and everything grows indoors. 

Life on the Farm, November 19

Two years ago nearly to the day I had a visit from a dear friend who was my university room-mate way back when.
Our lives intersected at that time because maybe that was what we both needed. I was leaving a marriage and she was trying to cope with an injury and job stresses.
I'm lucky to have that friend and I was so happy to fly out to the Maritimes over the last weekend to have a too-brief visit with her.

We picked up where we left off and I finally saw her home, her town, her loves and her life.
I'm so glad I did and I'm so thankful for her friendship. We've come a long way since pub crawls, french language dreams and so much laughter from so much silliness.
But I'm glad this new part of our lives still means we're friends.
Thanks, my friend, for everything.

Today however I was back to reality and back to picking in rather chilly weather. It just figures. The sun burst through the clouds as I was doing my deliveries, rather than in the morning when I needed it to warm me up a bit.
Every week there are fewer things in the garden and more greens growing in the greenhouse as they should be.

Beets and carrots are still in the garden in good quantity and appreciate the frosts to make them a bit sweeter. There are more Jerusalem artichokes, radishes, lots of herbs and greens.
In the hoophouses we have pac choi, a good number of different mustard greens, some mild and some peppery, chard, kale, arugula growing well and a bit of a surprise-still a few tomatoes.

You must admit that summer tomatoes, fresh picked off the vine taste fabulous. But do we appreciate them as much as we should when there are so many of them and you knw they'll keep coming for a while? I don't know.
But when I lifted my row cover in the hoophouse and found tomatoes, ripe tomatoes on November 19th? Whoo-hoo! Those tomatoes taste extra special, perhaps I think, a marketers dream. Limited edition fresh organic heirloom tomatoes. (Get them while they last and they won't last long!)
The baskets today showed a lot of colour-green in particular. Black was there too though, and a true black it was, not black as in a black tomatoes. I'm talking black. As in black winter radishes black.

I always tell people that they are super pungent, which they are so you could eat them the way Russians do. Grate them and add them to sour cream as a spread for your rye bread. Follow with a shot of vodka. Or not.
Failing that, dissipate the pungency by cooking them and they'll end up tasting a whole lot like rutabagas. It's fun to use  vegetable peeler and peel strips of the black off so that you have a black and white striped vegetable. You may be the only person on your block who has that!
Also in the baskets today were baby pac choi, a good assortment of mustard greens, carrots, garlic, celeriac, rosemary, thyme, sage and apples.

One of my CSA customers passed along an idea for organic apples that I had never heard of that I thought was pretty amazing. It turns out that the whitish film on apples is actually a wild yeast that can be used to make a sourdough for bread. Who knew? I sure didn't. Check it out here
Thanks, Leigh for passing this along.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fall CSA Week 8 and Farm Notes

Today was week 8 of my Fall CSA.
Regretfully I didn't get a post up last week because my beautiful beagle boy Darwin had surgery and it threw my whole week off. He's doing well now, but I was a wreck for a few days until I knew everything was alright.
This week, I'm back on track. And of course this week, especially this morning, it was cold. It barely crept above freezing today if it did at all. So yesterday I was busy because I knew I wouldn't be able to harvest the unthawed leaves outside today.
The carrots, beets and kale are still outside, as are the radishes and herbs. The mustard greens, of which there is a good variety, are from the hoophouses and will add a good peppery kick to whatever you are preparing to eat. 
I was surprised yesterday to still find a few tomatoes, eggplants and peppers surviving in the hoophouses. I had them covered with Agribon, but was pretty sure still that they had met their demise. Sweet lingering summer, but gone today.
There are certain kind of lettuces that can be planted in the hoophouses that do fairly well in the winter, but they are never great. In my experience they just don't handle the freeze thaw cycle as well as some of the sturdier greens like kales, chards, mustards and arugula. Personally I don't really miss lettuce at all if I have these. I like to chop them all up together, add a nice salad dressing and I have a super tasty salad. Much more zing and zip than lettuce.
On another completely different note, a homeless chicken was found in Port Colborne and I agreed I would take her in. Saturday morning though I heard "her" crow in competition with Pedro and I knew I had trouble on my hands. I hadn't introduced him to the rest of the flock yet, and now I am not sure at all that I can. Pedro, my sweet little bantam rooster will get beat up. I just know it.
Know anyone that wants to give a beautiful rooster a new home? 
Here are some pictures of this week's produce:

Want to know a bit more about the mustards in your baskets? Check out my "Marvellous Mustards" post HERE
My Seed Saver's Exchange seeds are in early and for sale now, in time for gift giving, be they for yourself or someone else. Not all my seeds are ready to go yet (are you kidding??), but I'm working on it all. I'll update my website soon, with new information about the seeds now available.
Yes, it's true. It's time to start thinking about next year already!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Guest Post-Food Nation

Food Nation

By Suzanne Taylor, erstwhile farm blogger, nosy foodie, and inept topical jokester.

It has to be said that some of my opinions on local eating are….controversial, and that I get a little ornery-assed when people don't get it, as my southern friend Susan likes to say.

I ran into my neighbours a few weeks ago at the farmer's market. They're nice people and very kind to my husband and me. But….they belong to a certain generation; they're kind of classic boomers who retired from well-paying unionized factory jobs, and always vote the same way. It's just a different point of view than mine, and I don't want to be rude. But with such a generation, I often find a particular mindset when it comes to food. 

The neighbour lady came over to say hi and inspect my purchases, of which I had many, and inquired about my variety of hot peppers, while I made ice cream recommendations to her. But then she said something that chapped my hide a bit. 

"Well, for 60 bucks spent here, I could have filled up three bags at Food Basics."

It isn't the first time I've heard this sort of remark. All I could reply was that I vastly preferred to eat the local fresh stuff over the imports, but my heart cringed inside. Because this belief, that the stuff at the grocery store, shipped from Guatemala and Mexico and China and wherever else, is somehow just as good as the amazing fresh stuff to be had across the region, is false and exasperates me to no end. 

I am sure if I lived in Mexico, California, Guatemala, Argentina, or any other agricultural community of that sort, I'd love living there and their produce.  I'm sure it's a delight to pull fresh oranges off a tree in Florida in the winter, pick pomegranates in California, and get fresh fruit off the carts in Baja. I know that the produce is good and that the locals enjoy it very much.

But this is the thing; for all the cheapness of the marked-down fruit and veg at the local Food Basics, I don't take any delight in waiting for that right moment for my avocados to ripen to use them for what I bought them for, which is always on a night when I don't have time to cook. I mostly gave up on bananas, since there is like a four hour window of time in which those mealy little fruits are at the correct ripeness to enjoy. Rock hard green mangoes break my heart. Variety in Canadian grocery stores has slowly improved over the years, but in the depths of winter, I still finger the imported produce and sniff haughtily. 

Here's the thing. A few weeks ago I dropped my husband off at work and drove back on Highway 8, as my husband had told me that there was a guy with squashes for sale on a cart on the side of the road in Beamsville, and told me to buy $20 worth. 

The cart was there, and it was one of those classic "throw your money in the bucket on the honour system" unattended produce stands that can still be found throughout the region, god bless the trusting farmer souls. There were about 10 varieties of squash, and I began loading up my car and toting up my purchases; getting a lovely mix of various Hubbards, Russian blue pumpkins, red Kuri, grey ghost, buttercup and sweet potato squashes. 

I now have a big storage bin in my basement full of about 15 different squashes that will last me through the winter. I threw my $20 in the bucket and drove on home, and thought about what my neighbour had said, and the next time I was in Food Basics checked out their squash section. Sure enough, there were anemic-looking butternut squash from Mexico that ran for 2.99 a pound, which is certainly far more than I paid at that stand in Beamsville when you do the math, if cost is your only motivator for grocery shopping. 

I am, truth be told, a wee bit tired of people just appending the words 'artisanal' and 'heirloom' and 'organic' to their offerings, be it farmer's market goods or restaurant dishes, and just using that as a way to mark up their grub without any meaningful commitment to sustainable local eating. Sometimes you can look at your plate when you eat at a farm-to-table style resto and see the care put into each dish, but sometimes it just feels mailed in, nothing more than an upmarket Jack Astor's.  

This is why I like the food trucks, hot debate topic that they are these days in Niagara, because they are bringing fresh innovation and adding fun to winery events in staid old tourist areas overrun with more traditional eateries, where the most imaginative menu item is something that has the word "Supreme" in the title. (A good rule of thumb is to never order that dish, I find). 

I think the only debate that is being had is at the hands of the sorta lazy restaurant owners in Niagara-on-the-lake who are used to marking up their dull and poorly made tourist grub and making easy cash through the summer months, and don't want anyone cutting into that, and that in actual truth people who like good food will happily support both the trucks as well as the good restaurants that put their heart into imaginative, fun cuisine. I mean, sorry you have to compete, guys, but that's the business. 

I realize my neighbours aren't going to come around to my way of thinking about food, anymore than the people I see at the grocery store with carts filled with margarine, factory-made bread and frozen dinners, whom I desperately want to clutch to my bosom and whisper that there is better, real food out there. For them, food is about a number on the bottom of a grocery bill, little more, and their idea of a fancy night out is probably The Keg, even though for the same amount of money much nicer local fare can be had. 

Fortunately there is a growing movement of people in Niagara who see food differently; who understand what food should be and is worth, who get why it's important to shop locally, and who turn such offerings into amazing dishes, be it at home or at a restaurant. You can feel the very heart and soul, the commitment, and the joy emanate from every dish, the creativity it inspires and the delight people take in it.

So, since I have all these squashes, it's time for me to put my locally spent money where my mouth is, and whip up a batch of pumpkin-sage polenta, thanks to the site http://kitchenconfidante.com/"> Kitchen Confidante.


Pumpkin Sage Polenta
YIELD: Serves 4-6
PREP TIME: 5 minutes
COOK TIME: 20 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 25 minutes
A hint of pumpkin and the taste of sage brings the glow of autumn to a simple polenta. If pumpkin isn't your thing, any autumn squash would work nicely, or if you prefer, leave it out for a more straightforward polenta.
3 cups water
1 cup polenta
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (can be canned if you don't have fresh)
1 teaspoon sage, chopped
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, polenta and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking periodically. Lower the heat and let the polenta simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the pumpkin and sage, and continue stirring for about 15-20 minutes, until the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the saucepan. Stir in the parmesan cheese and butter. Serve immediately while hot and creamy, or if you prefer, place in a square dish to cool and serve in slices.


See? A dish for us all, local eaters or not. 

But since you read this blog, fair readers, it's likely you feel the same as I do, and shop carefully like me to support your local farmer. I know I'm probably preaching to the choir here and that you are nodding along with my wee rant. All you can do to convince others is probably share your polenta and explain that the squash and sage came from that amazing veg farm back in Wellandport, and that the pumpkin was a lovely Amish Pie heirloom pumpkin, made with lovely purple sage? Or show them your CSA basket some week and explain what the vegetables are?

So, carry on, Food Nation. Support the food trucks and the farm to table restaurants. Eat local. Visit your farmers. Make eating more of an experience than just cost. It's up to the foodie generation to lead by example, and we're vastly less likely to be caught in an ugly drug scandal, despite today's news of http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/10/31/woman-caught-smuggling-drugs-inside-pumpkins-at-montreal-airport-rcmp/>pumpkin cocaine smuggling.