Monday, July 27, 2009

Making food better

An interesting piece on absorption of nutrients from food on NPR this morning. Among the things they discussed:
  • you need oil to absorb nutrients from foods. Not necessarily a lot, but some. (So, out with that horrible no-fat dressing!)(You also need oil to carry flavours across the tastebuds, so it's an all-round good idea.)
  • cooking vegetables with caratenoids - carrots, in particular - is actually better than eating them raw as it makes the caratenoids easier to absorb
  • microwaving might help to preserve antioxidants better than other cooking methods because of short cooking times

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Home again

If you found Home, the movie difficult to view on Vidoosh, you might like to know it's miraculously reappeared on Youtube. Check it out if you haven't already. 2,189,173 viewers are with you so far.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Madrona Farm deadline approaching

Madrona Farm, an organic family-owned farm in Saanich, is looking for money in all shapes and sizes to meet its second cash instalment at the end of July. The farm was owned by the family but not all of them wanted to go on farming. For the past year Farmer Dave, the son of one of the owners, has been trying to raise enough money for The Land Conservancy to buy it and conserve it permanently for farming. He managed the first deadline but the second is higher and fast approaching. It's in an area that is both too expensive to buy land in and under hot demand by developers (check out the density of their neighborhood). They'll take anything from $1 up, or if you're in the area you can join a bicycle tour of local farms this weekend. Let's help 'em out, eh?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Home, the movie

Home is the movie everyone's been watching, from our eyes in the skies, photographer-environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand. If you didn't catch it during its curiously short-lived appearance on Youtube, try this version from an Iranian video site. Essential viewing...

More about the film on GoodPlanet.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cuts to the arts in la-la-land

BC is a surreal place. Our food issues are handled by the ministry of healthy living and sport; our cultural interests are smothered by the skirts of tourism. This probably makes it easier to dismember funding, since the arts are so inextricably entwined with visits to the Ogopogo and whale watching.

I guess it's easy to get confused about the relative value of something like the BC Arts Council, when having to weigh its funding against that of community torch relays and resort development. And as UK arts bodies have been finding out for some time, when the Olympics is on the horizon, a lot of money gets siphoned away.

Whether that's what behind the 40% cuts to the BC Arts Council, it really beggars belief to hear the minister quoted as saying he thinks the arts community is happy with what he's done. On the other hand, it's an easy call to make if you don't receive letters of complaint. If you're in BC and you're bothered by the cuts and the attitude, here are some suggestions from the Alliance for Arts and Culture on how to make your feelings known.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Such a deal

If you didn't catch this article in the weekend Globe & Mail, by Leah McLaren, about
Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, a fascinating new book by U.S. writer and analyst Ellen Ruppel Shell, who examines the ramifications of what she calls “our relentless fixation on low price.”
it's worth a look. It has everything to do with food. If we wonder why the quality of food produced and sold to us has been diving, while food-related illnesses skyrocket, read on:
Examined in a broader, historical context, our hunger for cheap merchandise has been a destructive force. Sure, we can buy our Costco family pack and eat it too, but at what cost? The culture of cheap has driven down wages (by outsourcing manufacturing and ushering in an era of big-box mega-chains), driven up personal debt (by tricking us into spending more on scads of cheap stuff and less on carefully chosen quality) and created the globalized economy in which underpaid developing-world labour churns out disposable merchandise for the bargain-hungry West.
The culture of cheap is why North America is ahead of Europe in these social problems, where prices have always been high and traditions of quality endure. But only just ahead; Europe has the same discount mania, being the home of Lidl and IKEA and Primark.

These figures from the US were also mind-blowing:
From 2000 to 2007, median family income in the United States (adjusted for inflation) dropped by $1,175 (U.S.), while basic expenses grew by $4,655. In the same period, corporate profits doubled.
As explained later, one reason those corporate profits doubled was, in McLaren's terms, darkly ironic, and very much tied the prevalence of engineered obsolescence and disposability, which have driven out of business most of the manufacturers of items of enduring quality:
Low pricing doesn't make us spend less. It makes us spend more. As budget-brand retailers from Frank W. Woolworth to Ingvar Kamprad, the multibillionaire founder of IKEA, have long known, low prices equal high profits.
So the message is simple: buy less of everything, but better quality. And don't be afraid of paying full price. Let the suckers buy the bargains if they must, as they'll be outspending you in the process.

Friday, July 17, 2009

More seafood

The New York Times offers another of the seemingly endless guides to sustainable seafood which are starting to make me very uncomfortable. For example they recommend eating anchovies on the grounds they're low on the food chain and reproduce more readily, but anchovies are known to be endangered.

I begin to wonder if it is right to eat any kind of seafood (I will for the time being draw the line at farmed oysters, however).


Regrettable food & bluefin tuna

I spent a gentle morning, not so long ago, reading through the comments to an article Meli sent me about the worst recipe ever written (though I agree with the reader who guessed a typo had turned "peas" into "pears" in the recipe cited -- on the other hand, canned peas are a horrifying enough substance).

While some of the comments link to truly awful things, many others I would say cheat by being deliberately horrible constructions never intended to be eaten (e.g. the Twinkie Souffle), while others fall into the "edible" but not entirely serious (the spectacular Meat Ship, arrrr, the perfect meal with which to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day). The Gallery of Regrettable Food is excellent though, since the recipes are honest examples of foods once recommended, even if by the demons of a food company's marketing department. (How can I ever forget those Kraft Foods commercials that brightened my childhood Disney Show evenings?)

On a more serious note, it is good to see the UK taking action on the plight of bluefin tuna. The attitude taken by Nobu (the swish sushi joint co-owned by Robert De Niro) as reported in the Times article is a prime excellent example of how our market economy treats the world like its personal shopping basket, and damn the consequences.

Pablo Neruda once wrote an Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market. Thanks to overfishing, he'd have quite a bit more trouble finding a large one to address nowadays.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Corn smut

I'd heard of corn smut, but never experienced it. Just knew it was bad. Now I find out it is good! In Mexico, it is a revered delicacy called huitlacoche, cuitlacoche, maize mushroom or Ustilago maydis. You can make it into many dishes including soups, sauces and even ice cream.

Speaking of corn, and Mexican-ish food, Gabe passed along this delightful clip from the The Onion...

Taco Bell's New Green Menu Takes No Ingredients From Nature

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lots of music in the hot hot sun

Spent the weekend testing the limits of heat endurance and my sunscreen at the Vancouver Island Music Festival in Courtenay.

Steven Page was solo-ing after leaving Barenaked Ladies.

Arlo Guthrie played for us on his birthday and was repaid with cake and our wonderful singing.

Saturday was so hot the most popular venue was the Woodland Stage as it had the only shady seats. But Eric Bibb was hot enough to draw a crowd no matter the temperature.

Del McCoury and his almost all-family band were top notch Saturday nighters.

James Keelaghan

and Martyn Joseph

at one of the song circles.

The Comox Valley Farmers' Market is excellent, enviable and right next door to the festival site: an extra treat for Saturday morning. The sour cherries looked good enough to take home,

but somehow the wrong thing to be hauling around all the hot, hot, hot day long.

Sunday morning kicked off - almost as hot as Saturday - with the likes of Jim Byrnes and The Sojourners

and the star of the show, IMHO, the wondrous Eric Bibb

Had we been tall enough, we would truly have hung from the rafters to enjoy this blistering blues workshop, featuring both Bibbs (Eric and his dad Leon), Michael Jerome Browne Band, Jim Byrnes, Luke Guthrie, Sam Hurrie...

Mark Stuart and Stacey Earle gave a farewell (as a duo) performance - both are heading into solo projects.

Yves Lambert et le Bebert Orchestra started the Sunday night set off with some fun.

Some lovely things at the festival: the water wagon was a definite treat, bringing chilled water to the masses in this festival that dared to ban plastic water bottles.

There was also a liquid godsend in the form of the jet tent, where you could get a cooling blast of mist...

And there were artists at work here and there.

The food was pretty good. The Nomad's Kitchen was as folky as they come

serving platters like this one with grilled salmon

But Woodstock's smokies were up to their usual magnificent standard; the top seller again was the Gardener's Revenge (venison) - and very good it was too.

A fabulous treat which sadly sold out before Sunday elevenses: the outstanding caramel nut bar, lovingly crafted by Corfield Coffee Bar in Duncan.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Manitoba potato farming and a bit more about GMO labelling

I've split myself into two blogs - I wanted to see if I could prune some of my more garden-specific thoughts into my Random Garden blog - but then there's farming which has to do with food and also growing things, so it's going to be a little difficult to know what to post where for a while here.

I happened upon a story about Manitoba potato farmers that I wanted to share; it's coverage of a new film that looks interesting:

Food sovereignty and the fate of the family farm are big issues for all of us who eat. I also recommend farmer Jonathan Wright's ground-up account of what it's like to try to farm sustainably in Alberta; part one, part two, and part three. And a visit to their farm here.

I read that Whole Foods is now planning to take on non-GMO labelling. Well, I guess had the recession not slowed its growth it might have reached the size of a small country so perhaps it makes sense that this should be where the initiative comes from, if governments won't do it. Whatever else, it will certainly give the chain an enviable marketing edge in North America.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Organic Islands

This last was a spectacularly warm weekend in Victoria, perfect for the fifth Organic Islands festival. On Saturday the Terralicious team talked us through a sneaky way to ply your family with vegetables.

Tina and Dayle concocted a couple of lovely pizza combinations, with fennel and potato as the main stars.

Then there was a talk on the topic of Reviving the Vancouver Island Diet. Food security by any other name, it featured a crew of familiar faces and voices. Local farmer and writer Tom Henry

spoke about the need for Canadians to pay a fair price for their food - to allow local farmers to produce it; to encourage politicians to help small local meat producers raise and humanely/ locally slaughter food animals; and he stressed the importance of staying on top of local politics where these might impinge on food security - citing a potential loophole in Metchosin's secondary suite provisions that could allow the unscrupulous to subdivide farmland.

He appeared with Carolyn Herriot, talking about food security, the power of the land to provide a living, and her irritation with corruption in local politics; she has a long-standing mistrust of the nutritional value of foods reared hydroponically and so felt affirmed, if shocked, to read recently that greenhouses block the UV light needed to form antioxidants in vegetables.

Bill Code talked about the power of food to heal, and the community value of the Island Farmers Alliance; and Jen Fisher Bradley championed food collectives, debt forgiveness (student loan debts/young farmers) and the Vancouver Island Diet.

After too much sun, an organic hot dog and a dribbly cornetto di gelato, it was time to crowd beneath the tent to hear Jeremy Fisher play some old and some things from his new cd Goodbye Blue Monday.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Canlit magazines - the quest for survival

There has been a fair amount of coverage of the plight of Canada's literary magazines over the past few months, which risk an untimely end if the wrong-headed Canada Periodical Fund comes into being as proposed in February: their long-term fate still hangs in the balance. The conditions of the fund are that support will only be provided to journals with paid subscriptions of more than 5000, which rules out pretty much every literary journal in the country. The summer break is a good time to carry on reminding our legislators of the importance of these publications, and that they cannot survive if pitted against for-profit publications.

In these crazed times where market-happy management grads attempt to reduce every aspect of life to a business model, we need to wake up and admit that not everything - certainly not culture, not food production - can or should be run on a ruthlessly corporate model; and that you may cripple or ruin some of your most essential industries by imposing "efficiencies" and cost-cutting measures upon them.

Literary magazines are hugely important to Canada. They're the first place we've seen so many of our literary greats in print; they carry a permanent legacy of our literature's evolution - the paper and ink of print publication, blending more and more with an online presence; and they simply cannot survive in our under-populated country without the aid of grants, any more than can our literary publishers.

If you're a Canadian, please take a moment to sign the online petition that The New Quarterly has set up; or print off the pdf version from Arc. You can also join the Facebook group: Coalition to Keep Federal Support of Literary, Scholarly and Arts Magazines.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A week of summer

This week's excitement was helping out Terralicious, the gardening & cooking school at Haliburton farm. There was a hungry crew to feed lunch to, while they worked to restore the wetlands area that's attached to the farm and which the university uses to study amphibians and other wetlands wildlife.

Tubs of farm-grown lettuce to wash.

Some sage butter for the squash pasta sauce:

Rather beautiful appetizers: cucumber slices topped with berry cream and tayberries

and anchovy butter and radish.

Much enjoyed.

Two kinds of pasta sauce; the squash and sage, and/or the arugula pesto with sautéed tomato halves.

And for dessert, some divine crumble, of rhubarb and berries and apples, before

and after, with a dollop of ginger cream.

Meanwhile, in the park, a couple of hummingbird babes are nearly ready to fly...

Blackberries (Himalayan) getting pollinated...

Blackberries (Trailing) getting ready to pick...

Canada Day was fine... many namesake geese on the Gorge, gorging in the sun.

Some garlic scapes on offer

and a bit of Morris dancing.

And here's my little tribute to the day... Anton scored a couple of free treats from the dog biscuit lady.