Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sunday Dinners on a Saturday

Had a great launch of my chapbook Sunday Dinners last Saturday, thanks to JackPine Press and Open Space Gallery and a lovely audience. Here's Elise, of JackPine, showing off her natty tights during the intros:

Have no pics of myself, my collaborator Colleen Philippi, my book -- but here are some prawns that looked delicious

and here are my co-launchees, Shane Neilson and Frances Hunter.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sooke community garden

This month's CR-FAIR meeting was held out at Sooke, where we got a look at Sunriver Community Garden,

officially unveiled a week ago, and already thriving. It was created with the energy and guidance of Sooke Food CHI, who are in the process of handing its management on to a garden committee. They've done a dazzling job of raising funds and finding donations of everything from labour to garden sheds.

We sat beneath the gazebo

enjoying some excellent cookies - in a burly bowl by the Food CHI's Phoebe Dunbar -

before moving on to discuss the garden, which was on land set aside by the the Sunriver housing development. Half the 65 plots are intended for residents of the development with the rest for people from Sooke. It's an organic garden, so participants must sign agreements to hold to organic growing principles, and they are bound by a 'use it or lose it' guideline. The community has embraced the idea and given generously of time and in-kind donations so it's off to a good start.

We were treated to a lunch that included local bread and ALM Farm greens - in another of Phoebe's bowls - and then departed.

Why it's a good idea to grow and cook as much of your own food as humanly possible

Latest notices from the Canadian Food Inspection website May 25, 2010 - June 18, 2010
  • HEALTH HAZARD ALERT - Consumers Cautioned To Avoid Recalled Meat Products
  • Consumer Advisory - United States’ "SpaghettiOs" With Meatballs Recall
  • HEALTH HAZARD ALERT - Certain Green Cardamon May Contain Salmonella Bacteria
  • Industry Bulletin - U.S. Removes Temporary Restrictions on B.C. Cattle and Bison
  • Industry Bulletin - CFIA Stops Issuing Import Permits for Certain Plant Pests Being used as Feed, Bait or Pets
  • EXPANDED HEALTH HAZARD ALERT - Ready-To-Eat Cooked Meats Produced by Establishment 294 May Contain Listeria monocytogenes
  • HEALTH HAZARD ALERT - Certain LESTERS Brand Montréal Smoked Meat Pouches May Contain Listeria monocytogenes
  • Prosecution Bulletin - LIF Foods Inc. Fined $50,000 and Placed on
  • Probation for Two Years for Offences Under the Food and Drugs Act
  • HEALTH HAZARD ALERT - READY-TO-EAT COOKED MEATS produced by establishment 294 may contain Listeria monocytogenes
  • HEALTH HAZARD ALERT - Certain RICHLAND VALLEY and TAKE AWAY CAFÉ brand SANDWICHES may contain Listeria monocytogenes
  • Foodborne Illness Outbreak Response Protocol (FIORP)
  • Prosecution Bulletin - Oliver Cheung Hon Mok Ordered to House Arrest For Violating the Health of Animals, and Meat Inspection Acts
  • Industry Bulletin - Brucellosis not confirmed in British Columbia
  • News Release - CFIA Extends Compensation Application Period Related to Phytophthora ramorum
  • Approved regulatory amendments that were recently enacted and published in the Canada Gazette, Part II
  • Regulations Amending the Phytophthora Ramorum Compensation Regulations - Sudden Oak Death Extension
  • News Release - CFIA Deploys Traps to Detect Emerald Ash Borer
  • ALLERGY ALERT – Undeclared Milk in Certain 1.5 kg Boxes of Uncle Ben's Bistro Express 6 Pack
  • Industry Bulletin - New U.S. requirements for tomatoes shipped from Canada
  • Update: Toronto Police Service issue public safety alert for food product tampering
  • Toronto Police Service issue public safety alert for food product tampering
  • News Release - Government of Canada Releases New Common Food Allergen Booklet
  • HEALTH HAZARD ALERT - Voluntary Recall: President's Choice® Baked By You™ Roasted Garlic Bread May Contain Metal Holding Pin
  • News Release - Canada advances system for cattle traceability
  • CORRECTED HEALTH HAZARD ALERT - Certain Fresh Express Brand Romaine-Based Salads May Contain Salmonella Bacteria
  • Suspected Brucellosis Investigation in British Columbia
  • HEALTH HAZARD ALERT - Certain Fresh Express Brand Romaine-Based Salads May Contain Salmonella Bacteria

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lovely lavender and scourge of the wireworm

The Canadian Organic Growers, with chapters across the country, has a lively membership on Vancouver Island, which includes summer farm tours in the area. Yesterday's tour took us to Cobble Hill to see a lavender farm, and on to Cowichan Station to visit a CSA operation that offers grain and vegetables to subscribers.

We started at Damali Lavender Farm and B&B,

where they grow lavender

and grapes (Castel) - which they had been selling to winemakers but are now turning to premium wine vinegar.

There's a labyrinth there, used occasionally for workshops and special events

We had a good look at the lavender still,

which is used to extract essential oils. Not an inexpensive piece of equipment, they invested in it after making do with a smaller version their first couple of years, and it's reduced the workload hugely; from 16 eight hour days to one. It's portable (they have a trailer to allow them to move it) making it possible to lease it out to others who want to press essential oils from various sources such as fir.

After an aromatic turn round the gift shop - everything from essential oils and soaps to teas (chocolate mint and lavender being a popular one) and vinegars - we departed for our tour of Makaria Farm in Cowichan Station. It's a 10-acre fruit and vegetable farm, famed for its peas and strawberries, and also for its innovative grain CSA which it started last year, born of Brock and Heather's desire to learn about small-scale grain production. They'd come across a copy of Gene Logsdon's 1977 classic Small Scale Grain Raising:An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers and were inspired to experiment with its concepts, while bringing in local experts like Tom Henry to offer on-the-spot guidance; by bringing in 55 other families they were able to share the knowledge, and workload, more widely. This year the grain CSA is more streamlined, with participants coming in to help with the harvest instead of maintaining their own plots.

This year's plantings have been hugely damaged by pests above and below the soil. Wireworm has devasted the couple's plantings,

as have ravens which have been descending in droves to pull seedlings out of the soil -

they suspect in search of wireworms. This has led to a heavy investment in modern scarecrows - motion-sensitive water pumps -

and experiments in stringing off portions of the fields in an effort to keep the birds off.

Here's a field that they planted and worked and then forgot to turn the scarecrow back on for just one night: by the following morning this was the scene:

They have done some epic work in soil-blocking, using old bread crates to hold them,

and a fancy machine (designed to plant into plastic mulch, in fact) to plant them.

Their peas (climbers on one side of the net and bush on the other)

and strawberries are thriving.

The barley looks healthy

but the Red Fife wheat

has been stricken by rust.

But the beneficial insects seem happy and fruitful, at least.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Farms & gardens

Sooke's Sunriver Allotment Garden opens properly with a garden dedication this weekend. I won't be there for that but hope to have a look round soon.

There's been a lot of buzz about Chinese organics, since this article about dodgy dealings on the inspection end hit the NYT headlines. More fuel for the locavores, and even more fuel for the urban farmers.

Good to know therefore that there's clean and impartially inspected certified organic food on offer nowadays at Haliburton Farm's farm stand,

gearing up for full scale summer produce in the next few weeks, but open now with fresh greens, salad fixins and - gosh is it summer already? - strawberries

and (ahem) a little home baking.

Our work parties at the farm have moved to the plot formerly worked by the farm's gardening and cooking school arm, Terralicious, which has sadly ceased to be since its owner is moving to California. There's lots to weed

and lots to plant (beans, in yesterday's case).

We had our own local urban farmers' garden tour last weekend on a (so far) unusually warm and sunny day, and I found it reassuring to see that even though we've had such a chilly spring, there's lots of life in them there gardens, and some tantalizing signs of summer ready to pick.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Art and food

Here's a tasty article that gleans from a number of literary classics while discussing a new book, The Love Verb, which includes recipes. Seems to me I've ready other novels with recipes but the idea's never really grabbed me. Maybe it's just that it sends me into too much confusion about which bookshelf to put it on...

Here's a nice one: Sri-Lankan born food artist Vipula Athukorale who seriously plays with his food in Leicester.

And I'm looking forward to this weekend's launch of Sunday Dinners, the "chapbook" of food poetry that Colleen Philippi and I have done with JackPine Press. It's taking place at Open Space Gallery, 510 Fort Street, 2nd floor, Victoria, BC, Saturday June 19 at 7pm.

Foodies with a taste for creative nonfiction can submit something to the journal of the same name: Creative Nonfiction seeks true stories about food; September 3 deadline, $US20 reading fee.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Au revoir Ottawa

TWUC's meetings ended on Sunday after a lot of discussion about copyright, and the promise to issue this press release, and create this Facebook group. The gist of the problem from the writers' point of view is a change to copyright legislation in Bill C-32, and specifically changes to Section 29 which asserts that:
Fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright.
This aims to simplify matters for people who want to copy our work - but at the expense (literally) of those whose livelihood is to create it. The problem is that if the word "education" is added, the act then allows any instructor to copy any copyrighted work for free. The financial implications are huge for writers whose works are studied or used in schools, colleges, universities and training facilities large and small.

Currently there is a licensing arrangement (with Access Copyright) which puts a very modest fee in the pockets of publisher and author. For most Canadian writers, this amounts to a total copyright earning of around $500 a year once the pot has been divided. As about 80% of this is estimated to come from educational copying, one small change to this act means a whacking cut to a slender earning. And so the writers of Canada are calling for that change to be revoked and will pursue legal action if it is not.

So, meeting over, I spent a couple of days more in Ottawa. Saw the Hill

and the beautiful Parliament library, saved from fire in 1916 by a fastidious librarian who remembered to close the door when leaving;

and the cat sanctuary, where the cats come, so it seems, in all shapes and sizes;

and the Rideau locks;

and, in memory of Louise Bourgeois, the National Gallery's spider (which has marble eggs, I now know).

And then dined at a very nice tapas-style restaurant, Play, where the portions are small and shareable and include Ricotta "gnudi" - described to us as a naked noodle, tasty on its tapenade pillow and wearing a fetching little hat of confit garlic;

and asparagus with prosciutto

which was good, but a shocking abuse of prosciutto - which should be served raw in slices thin enough to reveal a Parma sunset. A nice piece of bacon, designed to be chunked and fried, would have been a more rational choice here I think.

A couple of the less photogenic items - grilled romaine dribbled with melted Ermite and garnished with caramelized onion and chopped cashews, and the tempura pickled ginger with a tamarind dip - were excellent.

My final day included a tour of the Gatineau, with lunch in Wakefield, tea (and a tiny cake)

in Chelsea, a look at Meech Lake

and a last vista: the Ottawa Valley, seen from a viewpoint on the Eardley Escarpment.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

TWUCing it up in Ottawa

The Writers Union AGM in Ottawa started off Thursday night with a talk by Hal Wake, who did a smooth job of recapping the past fifty years of Canadian writing - though by his own admission under questioning (by a nonfiction writer), he was talking as most do about fiction - and withstood the asking of impossible questions by an audience that included a good many of the past 25 union chairs. Who included (name-dropping unavoidable here): Graeme Gibson, David Lewis Stein, Andreas Schroeder, Eugene Benson, Rudy Wiebe, Betty Jane Wylie, Gregory M. Cook, Trevor Ferguson, Susan Crean, Dave Williamson, Bill Deverell, Maggie Siggins, Susan Musgrave, Christopher Moore, Audrey Thomas, Barry Grills, Penney Kome, Bill Freeman, Brian Brett, Ron Brown, Susan Swann and Wayne Grady.

Another past chair, Margaret Atwood, joined us today to be part of a panel on small magazines and presses in Canada and talked about the earliest days of literary publishing in this country.

John Barton and Maurice Mierau were the other panelists. Christopher Levenson, co-founder and former editor of Arc, chaired the panel; Barton had worked with him on Arc before moving to Victoria to take the helm of the Malahat Review, which is is now steering through the choppy waters of reduced government support and greatly diminished funding. He has a lot to say about the manner in which this has been done, and about the resilience and inventiveness required of today's literary editors as they fight for survival under a federal government that requires a minimum subscription level of 5,000 before a journal can even apply for funding.

Mierau spoke largely in his capacity as Associate Editor at Enfield & Wizenty, and offered the opinion that publishers in Canada are handcuffed by the funding requirements for Canada Council block grants, and proposed a system that incorporated more commercial titles and aimed for funding based on sales. About which I - representing that most unsaleable genre of poetry - have mixed feelings.

Preceding this interesting panel were others including one on the teaching of creative writing (is it possible to teach this?) featuring Catherine Bush, Genni Gunn, Tim Wynne-Jones and Ania Szado. Conclusions: well yes (sort of predictable since all the panelists teach/have taught/plan to teach creative writing) but it's complicated.

Other panels covered social media for writers which was a predictable knotting of silvery brows as we struggled to grasp the new realities of marketing ourselves in the digital age. The panelists, Hugh McGuire, Nichole McGill and Jenny Bullough offered kindly guidance on the ins and outs of managing our personal brand online. A lunchtime talk that nudged us Beyond Blogging was also useful, with a lengthy discussion on tweeting, as well as other useful concepts like url shorteners and Google analytics.

After all that I had to find some serious sustenance. The Kasbah Village makes a mean Merguez with couscous...

...washed down with ample house red and conversation, making it a slightly woozy walk back to the National Library to hear Marie-Claire Blais deliver the Margaret Laurence Memorial Lecture - which is soon, with the preceding lectures, to be collected into a book which will be sold to raise funds for the Writers Trust, which sponsors the event.

After which there was a reception. And after many of the millers-about had wandered off, there was some impromptu singing by - among others - Douglas Gibson and Sid Marty, with the piano stylings of Brian Brennan

accompanied by the tempestuous twirlings of Greg Cook and Dorris Heffron

and the soulful "Summertime" of Genni Gunn.