Monday, May 31, 2010

Tea & coffee with a spot of consciousness-raising

A couple of events involving warm beverages coming up in Victoria - ideally timed for these chilly spring days.

On the coffee front, The Black Stilt and Oughtred Coffee are fundraising for the families and children of coffee farmers that they purchase from. Come to either Black Stilt location to support sport and education programs for these families by purchasing the Seed to Cup book, written by Dave from the Black Stilt, about Rio Negro coffee, produced by the Rainforest Alliance certified coffee farm featured in the book. The event takes place all day Thursday, June 3 during regular business hours: an opportunity to learn more about your cup of coffee and local businesses' efforts to help their farmers' families. (Follow it on Facebook --if you aren't part of the quit facebook movement...)

The Room To Grow Foundation, a Canadian charity located on the Thai-Burma border in Mae Sot, Thailand, is holding a Burma Tea on Sunday, June 6th, from 2:00pm to 4:30pm at St. Matthias Church Hall on (Richmond at Richardson in Fairfield). $15 per person; tickets available at Ten Thousand Villages, Oak Bay Avenue and Full Circle Studio Arts.

The event will feature tea and homemade goodies, but also a Bingo on Burma, which offers entertainment and information about the situation on the Thai-Burma border, and a Silent Auction (items including: weekend getaway at Hidden Haven, Lasqueti Island, handmade fair trade items made by Burmese refugee women, healing therapy sessions (Reiki, Reconnective Healing, Cranio-Sacral), a composting consultation and some delectable desserts). Tax receipts are available. More information from Diana Pennock / phone 250-382-9466.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Life among the Nubians

I enjoy my membership in COG-Vancouver Island, which has information sessions over the winter followed by local farm tours. Last week's farm tour gave us a chance to see Blackberry Spring Farm in Saanich, which has two greenhouses. Barb grows greens for farmstand sale in this one

and Diane has just started planting in this.

Diane has a flock of chickens as well. She pointed out the difference between young hens in their prime

and older ones who at about 18 months stop being productive layers (these are laying hens rather than meat birds so they end up in the soup pot). The differences are in the colouring and the legs.

We actually began the tour with a visit to the goats, which are Nubians and very curious.

They have very long necks

and ears.

Diane chose them because they are great milkers, easy to handle, and are both dairy and meat animals, which is a consideration when half the offspring will be male. In the milking parlour we saw the milking ramp and the milking bucket

and then on to the kitchen to see a bit about her yogurt and cheesemaking. Here Diane is setting the curds to drain.

She says that Nubian milk is the Jersey of goat milk: very rich and high in butterfat, so excellent for cheesemaking, which we got a chance to affirm for ourselves when she concluded our visit by bringing out her spectacularly good bread with some chevre.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Edible words

I have not talked about poetry for a while. Food has seemingly taken over; but food poetry and writing are holding their own too. Here's a little update of my food writing news:

Food poems are being published in a couple of specialist food & literature publications: I'm currently in CuiZine, out of Montreal, and will soon be slathered on the pages of Alimentum, which is from New York.

JackPine Press in Saskatoon, which does wild and innovative limited edition chapbooks, is publishing Sunday Dinners next month, which features 8 of my food poems presented like the treasures found in the pages of old cookbooks, thanks to the artistic genius of my clever collaborator, Colleen Philippi. We'll be launching it here in Victoria at Open Space Gallery on June 19.

Not sure when, but sometime in the next 12 months I'll also be launching a 20-page chapbook of food poems, The Earth's Kitchen, from Lantzville's delightful Leaf Press. More on that as it unfolds.

And my most recent and most exciting news is that I'll have a piece included in Lonely Planet's anthology of food & travel writing, A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Encounters Around the World, which will be published in the fall.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Let me eat cake

It's a breezy day in Victoria and damp enough to keep me away from the lawnmower again this morning. Soon, all will be jungle.

I spent last weekend baking cakes instead of mowing my lawn. Here's what I learned:

Angel food cake is just 4 things: egg whites, sugar, flour and acid (cream of tartar), plus flavourings (salt, vanilla). The acid stabilizes the egg whites once they are beaten. We also added lemon zest and a little lemon juice (which adds both flavour and more stability). We were told never to use non-stick pans, and to mist (with water) rather than oil the pans so that the fragile batter had something to cling to as it rose. It also needs walls to hang onto, hence the use of tube pans. And when we cooled it (for a minimum of 3 hours) we did so upside-down to allow gravity to help the cake stay tall. The steam trapped inside the pan during cooling helps to loosen the cake when it's time to take it out.

After that it kept brilliantly and was lovely and light 3 days later when I served it with some awful organic California strawberries and cream (the things I do for food knowledge).

(Actually: I will not be buying California strawberries again as I've just watched Forever Plastic and seen how non-recyclable is plastic clamshell packaging)

Then we made two more cakes (chocolate and butter)

and learned a bit about butter cakes: the importance of making your butter/sugar mix fluffy before you start throwing eggs into it; the abrasive effect of sugar on butter which helps to cream it; and the importance of smoothing the batter before you put it in the oven. We learned three tests to determine whether a cake was done: feel (does it spring back when touched); stability (if it looks wobbly it's not done); edges (are they pulling away from the pan's sides?). And we inverted the cake pans (propped up so the tops weren't touching anything) to keep the filling light while cooling.

We then chilled our cakes and on day 2 we cut them (not to be attempted when they're fresh from the oven). First we put the cake on a rotating cake stand and marked two evenly spaced lines with our knives; then we lightly circled round cutting about an inch in, to make sure the first cut was even; then we circled round again and severed the first round. Then we repeated and separated the three layers. We kept the bottom layer as the bottom and, depending on how bulgy the top was, might flip it over to make for a flat top in the finished product.

We had made some simple syrup and some orange curd for use in our frosting exercises.

We brushed all three layers of the cakes with simple syrup, to keep them moist. Then we spread the curd on two of the layers. If it was too soft (we'd made it with gelatine but some batches were softer than others) we piped some butter cream icing to make a dam

to keep it from drooling over the edges like this

and then refrigerated it so everything could firm up. Then we took it out and applied a thin layer, the "crumb coat," and put it back to chill some more before the final decorating. Cakes can be frozen at this stage.

We passed the time learning to pipe flowers

and comb icing round the sides.

I did not master the combing but was quite pleased with my flowers. So was my bench-mate, apparently, as he made off with most of mine before I got to the decorating stage. Still, it looked ok even with no combing and only one flower. The almonds round the bottom helped (but they're also there to hide the inevitable imperfections that iced cakes will have at the base).

Chocolate one looked ok too, and the ganache filling was divine.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Spring greens, crackling and tuna

Now that I'm harvesting just about a meal's worth of greens every day, at least those I can wrest from the appetites of the resident slugs, I am starting to think about what to do with them. It's mostly rocket/arugula/rucola, a bit of kale, and a bit of spinach. (This picture includes purple sprouting broccoli which is done now.)

Spinach is a funny one. It used to be the champion green, loaded with iron... until we discovered (back in 1937) that someone had misplaced a decimal point and it's not the Popeye dream after all. Now I learn that its oxalic acid content makes it hard to digest what iron it does contain; and tea and coffee can also make it harder to absorb. Apparently drinking a Vitamin C-rich drink with your meal will help your body along.

I am always entertained by other people's scientific experiments with food, so I enjoyed this quest for the perfect pork crackling.

And as seafood generally becomes more problematic, I am particularly leery around tuna. The popular wisdom is eternally contradictory. For example, I hear that bluefin is out, but troll-caught albacore is ok due to sustainable fishing methods (so says the 'impartial' advice from a website called PR web, and a number of albacore fishery websites). Then I read this article which explains that sushi grade albacore is the worst for mercury levels. I think I will have to go on mostly avoiding it.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Green market, home-made butter and studies in sustainability and food policy

There is so much happening in food nowadays that when you hear the latest cool idea, it's hard to resist the urge to feel you should up sticks and move wherever it is. Halifax is one such place, where the new farmers market has made a little history by greening its power supply: after recent winds here in Victoria I am green with envy over their new wind turbines.

Rick passed along this nice article about making butter from scratch.

My alma mater is offering a very cool course of study in sustainability and food policies with instructors who include some of the food world's demi-gods: Tim Lang, Vandana Shiva and Carlo Petrini. Partly online, it concludes with face-to-face time at Terra Madre, in Turin this October. Applications are being taken until May 31.

This course of study is designed as no ordinary learning opportunity, where you walk away with fond memories and a bit of paper to frame, but in true ambitious Slow Food style, aims
"to produce a guideline document per area addressed to stakeholders (governments, companies, NGOs, institutions) keen to adopt food policies encompassing the latest analyses on ecological, economic, social and sensory sustainability."
The coursework builds on the contributions of the subject matter experts, and they aim to have a document completed by the end of Terra Madre, October 25, ready to present to policy-makers worldwide after final publication in time for Terra Madre day on December 10.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Jamie TV

I don't have a television, but I do (obviously) have an internet connection. And it gave me some pleasure to come across one of Jamie Oliver's programs (in 8 pieces): Jamie Oliver - Eat To Save Your Life will show you many interesting things you don't see every day, including a quick look at how sugar, salt and fat have been added to the modern diet; how an extra latte and a bowl of crisps each day can add about 40 lbs to a woman's weight over a year; what fitness looks like internally; where your organs go and what happens to their size if displaced by a fatty liver.

I like the tone of this (despite its moments of over-the-top silliness) - brutally frank but kind and positive - and the constructive social purpose at the heart of it. It covers much of the same ground as Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, but does it more efficiently and intelligently. It certainly shows up the stylistic differences between British and North American tv.

Being as I am in North America, I am so grateful to have given up tv during the era of reality television which has no social or technical virtues and is to me entirely unwatchable; on the other hand, perhaps I should be grateful for reality television, since it was the pointlessness and pervasiveness of this kind of North American programming that made giving up tv possible!

My English friends tell me constantly that the quality of British television has declined drastically over the years I've been away, but maybe that's ok too. (You can always turn it off and pick up a book?!) Gone are the days when fewer channels meant more common ground, and television was more truly a shared cultural experience. Sonny, in my day, when I first moved to England, we had four channels and something to talk about.

However. I am cheered to hear a lot of people here talking about Food Revolution. Which, being for Americans, has been presented in the American reality tv style. Although its irritating soundtrack, staged dilemmas, ponderous pace and trying-too-hard laughs would drive me up the wall, it does indisputably have a positive social purpose, targets the "food" that is fed to children, and is generating some unifying interest: so perhaps he's even striking a small revolutionary blow for television as well. (But I still don't want one.)

Monday, May 03, 2010

Salmon, meat, sourdough, Lorri at PEP and the Hali garage sale

There's a lot of buzz around the salmon walk (Alexandra Morton's Get Out Migration) which has involved a land-based migration of activists travelling by foot from Sointula, on Malcom Island, down Vancouver Island, raising awareness about the risks to wild fish of ocean-based fish farms (or, as they are described by some, Norwegian feedlots). It commenced on April 21 and is due to end in Victoria on May 9. Here's the itinerary if you want to join in or just see what's happening where.

Some good news around meat inspection regulations in BC; the protests were heard - to some extent - and the regulations have been changed. A little bit. It doesn't solve the problem for a lot of farms, but it's a start. When the regulations were changed initially, many small livestock producers on this island had simply packed in their business when the regulations made it impossible for them to carry on; it will be interesting to see how many are willing to get back into this. Meanwhile, I hear that the reduction in livestock has meant a reduction in the amount of manure available to farms and gardens, which is causing problems for farmers wanting to carry on building their soil without artificial fertilizers. (When oh when will we be able to remember that everything is connected?)

Sourdough seems to be everywhere I turn these days. Here's a great website that explains how to make a reliable starter using wild yeasts (which are present on the grain, not floating in the air as many suppose... which is what Back Home baker Mark Sinclair told us at the sourdough workshop he gave in Victoria). There's a good article about sourdough in the Wall Street Journal, and another in the Atlantic.

Lovely Lorri Neilsen Glenn read at Planet Earth Poetry's season closer on Friday. Before she was allowed to get on stage she had to eat some Cowichan Bay Chicken confit with very local purple sprouting broccoli and organic beets & cumin;

greet the herons in Cuthbert Holmes Park;

and help pack up Rhona's Own Baking for the Haliburton farm stand.

We got to the venue to join a packed house

in time to hear the open mic which included series founder Wendy Morton

and Yvonne Blomer, seeing out her first season as host

and then, and only then, was Lorri allowed to read to us from her superb new collection, The Lost Gospels.

On Saturday she flew the coop, heading east, and I was forced to seek other entertainments, including the Haliburton Farm garage sale

which was meant to raise money for repairs to the farm stand and greenhouse. The day was also the opening of Haliburton's farm gate sales, featuring vegetables, seeds, herbs, seedlings and even a bit of baking.

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