Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sustainable resolution

Looking for a new year's resolution? How about aiming for sustainable consumption?

A handy guide to sustainable food has been published on Sustain's website. It's a term that gets bandied around a lot, so it's good to have a working (and workable) definition, which goes something like this:
  1. Buy local, seasonally available ingredients as standard.
  2. Buy food from farming systems that minimise harm to the environment, such as certified organic.
  3. Reduce the amount of foods of animal origin (meat, dairy products and eggs) eaten and eat meals rich in fruit, vegetables, pulses, wholegrains and nuts.
  4. Stop buying fish species identified as most ‘at risk’ and buy fish only from sustainable sources.
  5. Choose Fairtrade-certified products for foods and drinks imported from poorer countries
  6. Avoid bottled water and instead drink plain or filtered tap water.
  7. Protect your and your family’s health and well-being by making sure your meals are made up of generous portions of vegetables, fruit and starchy staples.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Hampers, hampered, hampering

Did my Christmas bit last Wednesday - enjoyed an afternoon hanging out in beautiful big Earle Clarke House

with Joyce and Peter, who every year host a gathering of 70-100 elves who come and go throughout the day bringing food and packing it into giant hampers for needy families in the area. This year the Salvation Army was seeking to provide some 1300 hampers in all, which come from local organisations and community groups as well as more informal groups like this one.

When I left, the turkey (and therefore hamper) count was a record-breaking 65; after I left the tally rose to an amazing 76. Not bad for word of mouth.

It's a fiendishly simple idea: you just invite everyone you know, ask them to bring what they wish from the list - or raise cash donations to buy what's needed - and then feed and water them while they work, and somehow it all comes together. It helps that Joyce is supremely well-organised and understands the power of good sign-posting.

She also makes a gorgeous Christmas cake, terrific pea soup and great eggnog,

and cranberry punch

for her grateful workers.

Joyce reports that three of the hampers went to the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder Community Circle’s “Moms Mentoring Moms,” which provides support services to mothers trying to raise families where addiction has been a problem. The other 73 hampers went to the Salvation Army, along with cases of extra carrots, brussels sprouts and potatoes. She says that it took seven burly Salvation Army volunteers and two big trucks to collect it all.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Scotland it ain't

The company which provides my email has also decided to change my surname. So maybe you can understand why I dislike being in North America in general, and why I have a special hate on for the Beach Boys?

It is maybe not as specific and passionate a hatred as I have for Canada Post, that government agency which has the bare-faced cheek to charge tax when it sells us stamps, and who took my money for holding my mail and then sent a selection of it back to Italy. So now I can choose to enjoy playing a complicated long-distance game of hide and seek in Italian with Poste Italiane during the Christmas rush.

However. I did have an outstanding meal in London before I left, at La Trompette. Here's the evidence:

A starter of mixed leaves - endive of two colours and rocket - with roquefort, walnuts and poached quince:

Followed by an exquisite piece of sea-bream, crunchy and melting, on a bed of pureed potatoes with a darling lettuce heart and perfectly roasted parsnips for company, in a chicken jus with capers.

We would not dare to call this delicious morsel Pineapple Fluff, but superficially, and passion fruit aside, the resemblance was striking...

And on my first visit to an Italian grocery in Vancouver, which shall remain nameless for the moment, I was able to spot my first instance of cheese fraud. They had vac-packed Grana Padano and were selling it as Parmigiano-Reggiano; you can tell by the markings on the rind, which are diamond-shaped for Grana, whereas Parmigiano-Reggiano simply has its name spelled out together with the production date (which makes it annoying not to get a specific answer when I asked the seller how old their Parmigiano-Reggiano was: basically you are looking for something in the 24-36 month range, but all she could tell me was the piece in my hand would be between 2 and 4 years... since the producers will have charged the wholesaler more for a 36 month wheel than for a 24, it does matter to me the consumer which I am buying).

Grana is a cheaper, industrial version of Parmigiano-Reggiano, so it is more than cheeky to try to pass it off as its higher-priced cousin. I told the clerk at the cheese counter that the cheese had been mislabelled; she looked confused but gamely started filling a basket to get the offending merchandise off the display. But when I looked again, most of it was still there. I will hold judgement and whistle-blowing until I have a chance to check them out again. I greatly fear that my year's experience has only served to make me potentially unwelcome everywhere I go.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Scotland, a scary place

Even the horses wear tartan.

And you must always, always, watch where you step.

And the plants are so large they get their own right of way.

And the Scots are so hardy they take their baths outside.

Well. Beyond all that, the writing has gone well this week, but what I've been constantly enjoying is all the reading.

Here's a great discovery, thanks to Sian who found it in The Faber book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry: Elma Mitchell, who begins "Thoughts after Ruskin" this way:
Women reminded him of lilies and roses.
Me they remind rather of blood and soap,
Armed with a warm rag, assaulting noses,
Ears, neck, mouth and all the secret places:

Armed with a sharp knife, cutting up liver,
Holding hearts to bleed under a running tap,
Gutting and stuffing, pickling and preserving,
Scalding, blanching, broiling, pulverising,
- All the terrible chemistry of their kitchens...
And from the same anthology, I enjoyed "Chinese Poem" from Iain Crichton Smith, as I too have been wondering
When shall I see the city again,
its high towers and insurance offices,
its glare of unprincipled glass?
Rather too soon I am sure. And once I'm there perhaps I will be eating some of George MacBeth's material from "An Ode to English Food":
...Fresh, tender and unbelievable English
duck. Such

luscious morsels of you! Heap high the
groaning platter with pink fillets, suckling pig and
thick gammon, celestial chef. Be generous with the
crackling. Let your hand slip with the gravy trough,
dispensing plenty. Yes, gravy, I give you your due,
too. O savoury and delightsome gravy, toothsome

the soft white backs of my English potatoes,
fragrant with steam. Brave King Edwards, rough-
backed in your dry scrubbed excellence, or with
butter, salty.

And another Scottish treasure I'll be looking for is W.S. Graham, who died in 1986 but whose Nightfishing (1955) still gets hailed as a model of writing about the fishing life. He writes well about the cold, too, in "Malcom Mooney's Land" which I read in hopeful anticipation of prairie blizzards (experienced from a warm and safe observation point) in my future...
From wherever it is I urge these words
To find their subtle vents, the northern dazzle
of silence cranes to watch. Footprint on foot
Print, word on word, and each on a fool's errand.
From the rimed bag of sleep, Wednesday,
My words crackle in the early air.
Thistles of ice about my chin.
My dreams, my breath a ruff of crystals.
the new ice falls from canvas walls.
Just taking a last look round Edinburgh before I vanish back down south on Saturday and way back west on Tuesday. The city is, as you might expect, full of Christmas buzz, although the bus system is making me cranky and is a sterling example of the evils of privatisation. Here's a challenge to all: in what other major city on the planet can you find multiple bus companies running separate services along many of the same routes, where the companies do not accept one another's day passes, and where the bus drivers can only sell you day passes that work on that service? The maps (like those of Parma) are a confusing if colourful spaghetti-like maze and I suppose that the colourblind bus riders of Scotland have all long since given up and moved away. Or bought cars.

The main attractions for me today were to see the Joan Eardley exhibition I'd been hearing about, and to see what was up at the ethical Christmas fair on Princes Street. The sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and ever so occasionally, there's a little smack of mist.