Archive for March, 2009

Cooking in Late March

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

I find it gets more difficult to feel creative about eating locally and seasonally in late March, at least here in Ontario.  I start to feel like I have eaten enough squash and mashed carrot and turnip for this year.  We are enjoying an early spring this year and so I have been harvesting some Jerusalem artichokes – they are nice roasted or parboiled and then sauteed with some salt and pepper.  There are also many interesting recipes for Cream of Jerusalem Artichoke soup on the internet, and one in my book, From Seed to Table!

I also like to make a few salads with chick peas or other legumes, grated carrots, and some kind of sprouts.  Sometimes it helps to think out of the box when it comes to salads -  toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds, hard boiled eggs, grated cheese, all help to liven up these salads while making them nutritious enough to stand on their own at a meal.  Try adding a grain such as quinoa or barley or making  a vinaigrette with grainy mustard for another nice change.

And know that in a month or so, those first salad greens should be large enough to pick! (If it stays warm like this I think I will plant my first batch of salad greens next week and cover them with a double layer of floating row cover and hope for an early harvest).  For detailed instructions on planting salad greens see the April chapter of From Seed to Table.

Food and the World We Live In

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Someone once said that you could solve 95% of the world’s problems if you addressed the issues surrounding food.  As I thought about this statement, I began to see all of the aspects of our life that food touches.  I thought about greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation and pollution, waste issues, obesity, stress, degenerative diseases, poverty and loss of access to land and water in developing countries, genetically modified organisms, corporate control  – the list just kept on getting bigger.  Food really does influence so much and the ways in which we set up our systems of food production governs much of the way that our society, and the societies that we trade with, function.  So, it would follow that if we changed our relationship with food, we could begin to reshape our society and address the problems that we face.

Having worked and raised a family, part of the time as a single parent, I believe that most of us have some pretty finite financial and time limitations on our lives.  I would love to write letters to my MP’s, attend political rallies, and install some sort of renewable energy system on my house.  But I know that these things are just not realistic, at least not right now.  What I do believe I can do is to make choices about the foods that I eat, how they are grown, where they are grown, and how they are packaged.  This for me has been my constant activism, along with volunteer work in my community.  It feels doable and affordable and important because I very much believe in the power of the consumer.  It has been our choices and our lack of understanding of their implications that has created today’s food systems and the products that we see in our stores.  Our conscious choices can demand a different kind of food system – one that is ecological, that supports the local community, that does not impoverish others, and that is within our control. 

There are so many reasons to buy local foods and to eat seasonally. Local food initiatives are growing by leaps and bounds – many of them are exciting and offer positive hope for real change. The Ontario government is investing 12.5 million dollars in its Pick Ontario Freshness campaign and Quebec’s Put Quebec on Your Plate initiative has 14 million dollars in funding.

The Canadian Co-operative Organization (www.coopscanada.coop) published a report on Local Food Initiatives in Canada in June of 2008. This report can be found at www.ccednet-rcdec.ca. The report stresses that local foods contribute to the local economy, allow for a financially viable agricultural sector, increase our ability to be self sufficient, provide quality food at affordable prices, and significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with food that has travelled thousands of kilometers. Farmer’s co-operatives have always been an important part of the Canadian agricultural landscape and increasingly farmers and retailers are coming together to support each other and provide quality local foods to consumers. The following excerpt about a really successful co-operative initiative is taken from this report:

The Really Local Harvest Co-op, an innovative farmer-run co-operative in New Brunswick is regaining control of the food system and finding the fun in farming. A small group of farmers had had it with the old way of doing things. They were working all the time, not making any money, and most of the food they were growing was being shipped out of province.

“We felt that we didn’t have a choice about creating the Co-op. You either work for northing or you create your own system”. Donald Daigle, President Really Local Harvest Co-operative.

The farmers went to the town of Dieppe with a plan to create a farmers’ market in 2004. Now on a typical sunny summer day, some 10,000 people visit the Dieppe Farmers’ Market to get a taste of locally grown foods like goat’s cheese, cranberries, vegetables, and other local products. The farmers have gone from nearly ‘losing their shirts’ according to Daigle, to leading the charge to revitalize their community. Within a few short years, the co-op has built a three million dollar local enterprise with numerous positive economic spin-offs for the community.

The co-op does not plan to stop there. Soon they will be unveiling an ambitious plan for an agro-tourism venture that will have visitors pondering the wonders of the apple and taking rides on a wagon powered by buffalo, all the while enjoying the food bounty of New Brunswick.

In the Kitchen

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

February and March are challenging times if you are trying to eat locally and seasonally. If this is your first year at this, you are probably limited to what the grocery store has to offer in terms of local produce. In my little local grocery, that includes carrots, parsnip, cabbage, onions, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and apples. If you can manage to build a small cold storage in your basement (I will talk about this in the fall) you can have a larger selection of winter vegetables – also it is much more likely that these can be organically grown. I only have a small garden and do not grow my own winter vegetables but I place an order with a local, organic farmer each fall and stock up my cold storage room sometime in November each year. I have been doing this since I left my farm and my very big garden 10 years ago and it has worked amazingly well for me. If you are looking for sources of local foods, try going online and seeing if your area has a local food initiative that publishes some sort of directory. In Kingston we have www.fooddowntheroad.ca, in Toronto there is Local Food Plus at www.localfoodplus.ca, and the Vancouver area has Farm Folk/City Folk at www.ffcf.bc.ca. Another great resource is Canadian Organic Growers (www.cog.ca) – this organization publishes a quarterly magazine as well as a monthly e-newsletter and has chapters all across Canada. Often local chapters will publish a producer’s list which can be very helpful.

I have finally managed to be diligent about making sprouts in the winter and I find this makes a great difference to our winter diet. Each year I seem to like a few different kinds of sprouts – this year it is the year of the lentil! I sprout ordinary green lentils from the health food store, though you can buy a smaller variety that is perhaps more delicate tasting. I mix my lentil sprouts in a grated carrot salad or add them to coleslaw, but mostly I find that I eat them fresh, by the handful and straight out of the sprouter. Putting them in salads gets my children to eat them. I also make a finer sprout mix of alfalfa, fenugreek, clover, and radish that we use for sandwiches and wraps. I don’t buy lettuce in the winter so eventually the imported lettuce eaters in my family tried the sprouts and realized that they like them!

I was browsing through a friend’s very beautiful cookbook from China. Most of the recipes were fairly complicated and had ingredients that I do not have in my kitchen but there was one simple salad that caught my eye. It called for

4 cups of finely sliced cabbage – better to slice that to grate

2 cups of mung bean sprouts – you can buy them at the grocery store or make your own.

⅛ to ½ tsp of red chili flakes

½ – 1 tsp salt

1-2 tbsp oil

2-3 tbsp rice vinegar

The original recipe did not call for oil but I find that it mellows out the taste somewhat. It also called for a full tablespoon of salt, which seems to me to be too much. After you combine the ingredients, it is a good idea to let the salad sit for several hours. The chili flakes are spicy and hot but not overwhelming and the salt brings out the moisture in the cabbage and in doing so loses some of its salty flavor. It’s a nice fresh tasting salad with a good bite to it. Enjoy.

In the Garden

Monday, March 16th, 2009

It is really beginning to feel like spring is just around the corner here in southern Ontario. I just sent off my seed order and am excited to start some transplants. This year I ordered the bulk of my seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine. They really do have some of the best quality seeds that I have ever used and they make a real commitment to supplying untreated and organic seeds and supplies. There is no duty when you order seeds from the United States, which helps to keep them affordable. I also rediscovered a yellow bush bean called ‘Dandy Gold’ that I have not been able to find for several years. It is a flat podded Roma bean and it is probably the best tasting, butteriest, yellow bean I have ever grown. T & T Seeds in Winnipeg, Manitoba is the only seed company that I know of that carries ‘Dandy Gold’.

For all of you planning a garden for this year, it is time to make a garden plan and to order some seeds. You can buy small seed packets from local grocery stores or gardening supply centers, but seed catalogues really have a much greater selection – both in terms of varieties and packet sizes. Also you are much more likely to find seed that has been organically grown. There are many medium sized Canadian seed companies that offer good quality conventional and organic seeds as well as an ever increasing number of smaller companies that specialize in heirloom varieties of seeds that are organically grown. There is a seed company called Aimers from Hamilton, Ontario that sells packets of organically grown seeds at a local Kingston gardening center, but for the most part I would recommend that you go online and order yourself a few seed catalogues (most of them are free) and do some winter browsing.

At the same time, try to make a realistic garden plan because it is just too easy to buy way more seeds than you really need! Decide on a size for your garden – if it’s a summer garden designed to give you fresh eating vegetables from May to November, I would recommend between 350 and 500 square feet. That is a very manageable size for a family of 4-6. In From Seed to Table, I give several sample garden plans, these are useful to get some idea of how much to plant and when to plant. If you look at the plans, you will see that I plant in 4 foot wide beds and that I plant small amounts every month from April until September – yes you can plant salad greens in September for a very successful fall harvest. If you would like to grow some vegetables for winter storage, you will need a larger garden and a bigger commitment in terms of time and energy. Plan for between 500 and 1000 square feet for a winter storage garden.

March is the time to start some transplants for both gardens. I will talk more about that later, but if you want to grow leeks and onions from seed, you really need to be starting them now. Both have a long growing season and will not grow to maturity in our climate unless started indoors. You can also buy onion sets – these are onions that have been grown for about two months last year, then harvested and stored for the winter. You plant the small, 1-2” onions straight into your garden in April, and they save you from having to make transplants. I always preferred the transplants, because I could find varieties of onions that are better for storage and also because I found them to be more successful in terms of growing to a good size. I would recommend about 400 onion seedlings and 100 leek seedlings for winter storage for a family of four that does a reasonable amount of home cooking – and that likes onions and leeks!

Seed catalogue links

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Winslow, Maine

William Dam Seeds, Dundas, Ontario

Vesey’s Seeds, Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Dominion Seed House, Georgetown, Ontario

Greta’s Organic Gardens, Gloucester, Ontario

Terra Edibles, Foxboro, Ontario

Salt Spring Seeds, Ganges, B.C.

T & T Seeds, Winnipeg, Manitoba