Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Borrowed Rooms and banana jam

It's been a frosty old Christmas season here. It's melting, but cold and grey right now. Last night's epic journey over the Malahat was cut cruelly short by a blizzard near the summit; first time I've ever had to turn back trying to get up-island. Still, we get swans on the Gorge in compensation and the municipal workers are out there right now baring the path so old Anton won't slip and slide so much on our walks.

Christmas day's diversion was making banana jam: mighty good on yogurt, flavoured with cinnamon, lime zest and rum.

And here's a new year invitation to look forward to: the launch of Barbara Pelman's new collection Borrowed Rooms. The event will be celebrated with music, refreshments, and of course poetry! It happens at Congregation Emanu-El (1461 Blanshard at Pandora, Victoria) Sunday, February 1, 2009 from 2 to 4 pm. Books will be on sale for $16.00 with profits to be donated to the synagogue's Mikvah fund.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fruit cakes & sour grapes

Just wanted to say a few words in defence of fruitcake. I too remember those sickly sweet crumbly marzipan-topped atrocities of yore. But I also remembered Michelle's mother's cakes as being the ones that won me over. I'd been dithering over about four pounds of mixed raisins, sultanas, currants and dried apricots that were growing plumper and plumper through repeated applications of calvados and apricot brandy; I craved fruitcake but couldn't find a recipe that appealed, until Michelle sent me hers, which was a relative of this one; it features grape juice and 10 eggs and a quart of brandy, and at least 48 hours spent soaking the fruit. It is unspeakably good.

I didn't include any citron in mine, but was thinking about a dinnertime conversation I had recently about this fruit. I used to see it in the markets in Italy, where it is called cedro. We were wondering if the liqueur my friends had had in Greece - Kitron - might have been made of that rather than lemon, and indeed this seems to be so.

Could wine be considered sour grapes? Vinegar could, anyway. I've been thinking about sour foods in recent months, after picking up on some local buzz about natural fermentation over the summer.

Back in 2003, Sandor Ellix Katz published a book - Wild Fermentation - which has become wildly popular; I believe I actually saw him floating around Terra Madre with his last copy so didn't manage to secure one there, but the ideas intrigue me (and I have his latest, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, lined up on the bookshelf). So when I picked up a nice seasonal cabbage during a farm shop swoop the other day, I thought I should try my hand at sauerkraut. Starting a little late to have it ready for Christmas (one of those family tastes I'm wild for is our tradition of having sauerkraut alongside turkey - something about sauerkraut and turkey gravy...) but could start the new year off right.

It's a simple thing to do: all you need is salt and cabbage, and somewhere to put it (I hear reports about its fermentation aromas which suggest you might want some distance between you and the crock while it's doing its thing). A recipe from Mother Earth News makes it sound easy, and the benefits extolled include a possible cure for Avian flu and cancer prevention.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Slightly snowbound, farming apprenticeships, bee-art and a couple of poems

We've gone from this....

to this...

So here's a Christmas thing to do: click on the BC Hydro card to get them to contribute money to the BC Children's Hospital fund.

And after that, maybe it's a good time to look forward to spring. There's a new (to me) website worth visiting if you are considering changing your life: if you think your future might involve farming, check out the apprenticeship opportunities on SOIL. The qualifications are pretty straightforward: you need to be at least 18 years old and healthy, self motivated and eager to learn; able to give at least eight weeks, preferably over a full growing season.

More on bees (thanks Ruth!): check out this amazing video about Manitoba artist Aganetha Dyck who is collaborating with honeybees to create art from their wax.

Feeling a little sleep-deprived these days, I was checking the Poetry Daily archives and found this poem, another candidate for what surely must be coming: an anthology of bear/sleep poems? And enjoyed reading Peter Daniels' poem Shoreditch Orchid, double-prize winner in the Arvon competition.

Friday, December 12, 2008

DIY foods - mushrooms, mayo, citrus peel, pickled beets, cheese & oatcakes

Too busy to think lately, let alone sit down to write anything. Which is some state of torment, now in the heart of baking season. But... In the back of my mind for a while I've been thinking about mushrooms, which grow in great numbers on my lawn at this time of year. I have no idea what they are though. But I thought it might be a nice thing to grow mushrooms: that way you'd know what they were when you started. And sure enough Mother Earth News has a piece (several pieces) on that. Unfortunately they suggest that you start with a mushroom kit -- so "all" you have to do next is find one of those.

But while we're looking, there are lots of things we - children of the convenience era of the 60s - have been lulled into thinking we must buy from the supermarket. But we can make them ourselves, with the knowledge we know exactly what's in them. Like...

I have been making my own mayonnaise for a while; easy and good and I'll never go back to the prefab stuff. Like ice cream making does with cream, if nothing else it brings you face to face with the amount of oil you're consuming! I made something similar and even more wonderful the other day: salsa verde to go with fish cakes. It was amazing as a dip for vegetables, and can be diluted, or extended, with home made mayonnaise to go a bit farther.

Another nice thing to make is ketchup. There's something reassuring about adjusting the sugar, vinegar and spice mix to your own taste instead of being fed what a manufacturer thinks you should have on your chips. And you can freeze it if you don't want to bottle it.

And it being Christmas cake season, maybe just a little late by now, perhaps it would be worth making one's own citrus peel (and - come summer - glace cherries!). And I recommend adding chopped candied ginger to your gingersnaps.

I picked up a big bag of beets at the farm market, taken as I am with pickled beets. Which, it finally dawned on me, I could make as I needed them. They keep well in the fridge.

One last idea: once you've made your own cheese, you can spread it on some of your own oatcakes.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Christmas gift ideas

Most of these are local to Victoria, but maybe if you're elsewhere you have similar options (let me know if you do!) for giving gifts that will make a bigger difference this year.

1. Buy a farm a long term future
A local organic farming couple is seeking investors to help them keep their land available for farming in perpetuity: Madrona Farm has met the first installment deadline in its quest to raise $2.5 million to buy its permanent custodianship for agricultural use under the TLC -- thanks in no small part to the number of British Columbians who've donated their carbon tax ("climate action dividend") cheques to the cause. There's another deadline coming up in July, so you can start now...

2. Buy another farm a long term future
The Farmlands Trust is also seeking investors and TLC covenant protection to purchase Woodwynn Farm. So far they have raised over $3 million in donations and no-interest loans and are seeking another $2-$2.5 million in time for their March 15th, 2009 deadline. Every donation over $50 receives a tax receipt and thank-you card from The Land Conservancy of BC. You can check it out for yourself with a visit to the neighbourhood, at 7pm on Thursday December 4 in St Stephens Church Hall, 7921 St Stephen's Road, Saanich, to catch a viewing of Island on the Edge and hear about the fund-raising plans from the people behind the project.

3. Buy a stake in ecological vision: OUR Ecovillage in Cobble Hill, a living laboratory of rural sustainability, attracts 7500 visitors a year who come to learn about cooperative living, permaculture, natural building, and a new vision of life on Earth. They're seeking people who want to invest in OUR Ecovillage Co-operative at $5,000 per share; or to make a charitable (tax-deductible) donation to the Cowichan Community Land Trust have OUR Ecovillage put into protection as a Community Land Trust.

4. Buy some veggies for someone who needs them: if the Food Roots Holiday Box (20 lbs of local edible fun for $49) sounds like too much fun to keep to yourself, you can donate a box (or more!) through Food Roots, to the Salvation Army or the Women's Transition House.

5. Give a turkey. Get in touch with Joyce & Peter at Earle Clarke House in Victoria (sometime before December 21), and pledge some money or food for the Christmas hampers they put together each year for families in need. They look for everything from stuffing mix to turkeys. They have 100 empty hampers they'd really like to fill this year.

6. Bless the bees: Give bee-friendly plants, or a home-made mason bee house or a bumblebee nest to encourage them (or you can order some here). People have been sending me honeybee news, for which I am most grateful: here's a story about bee havens in Europe (thanks Ruth!); about a swarm of protest in Britain (thanks Judi!); and another about the founder of a cool group called Bees Without Borders.

7. Give a goat: Oxfam Unwrapped offers a dazzling selection of items and services for people in developing countries, from seeds to water to healthcare training. They'll send a card to your friend or relative describing the gift you selected for them while the gift and proceeds generated go to those who need them most. (Meli told me about a wedding she went to where the gift list was all Oxfam Unwrapped: how great is that?)