Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We want to be more sustainable, so we've been thinking a lot about planting and storing in larger quantities. It's autumn, and we had a fairly successful garden this year. We ate a lot fresh, and that's about it. We didn't have any quantity to save for this winter. So we're taking the next step for next winter and becoming truly ready. One thing we love is garlic, and we not only want to have some fresh next summer, but also enough to last us the winter.

Garlic is classified as a biennial. My best guess would be that we were supposed to plant a seed in the spring and at the end of the season you'd have a single bulb, like a shallot. Then the next year that single bulb would develop the cloves you are familiar with from the grocery store. But humans quickly discovered that you can just plant a clove in the fall and it'll develop into a full bulb the next summer.

In most plants that you harvest for its root or leaves, the flower, and resulting seed head is considered a waste of energy. You'll let some go to seed to collect, but mostly you'll pinch them off so all the energy goes into the leaves or root. After discovering it was possible to propagate from cloves, people started selecting garlic based on its bulb size and how much energy went to the bulb instead of the flower and stalk. Since then, over thousands of years, garlic has become sterile and unable to be grown from seed.

So does this matter? True offspring, rather than clones are the best way that plants develop resistance to disease. Since the 1980s there has slowly been some success in bringing fertility back to garlic.

First we got a 2kg bag of a variety called "Music" from William Dam Seeds in West Flamborough. This variety has large cloves, with a purplish tinge to the skin and apparently a pungent odour.

Our second batch is a variety pack from The Cutting Veg. There are 35 bulbs with an average of 5 cloves each, in varieties including Ukrainian, Persian, Former Yugoslavian, Russian, Tibetan, Italian and, declaring independence, Sicilian. We placed our order online, and Jesse picked the bag up on Monday at the Sorauren Farmers Market.

This week Jesse's dad Jerry said that he is going to clear and till a nice chunk of land for us to plant our garlic at their farm. We are pretty excited. In the spring we will pick our garlic scapes (remember this article?) and by this time next year we will have more garlic than we will know what to do with.

If you're interested in growing garlic this year, act now! Seed garlic is usually sold out during September. Or maybe visit a farmer's market and buy a bulb, eat half, and plant the rest. Technically you could plant that vaguely-sourced Chinese garlic from the supermarket, but I've read it's been treated with anti-sprouting chemical inhibitors, so it doesn't sprout on it's sadly long journey. It'd probably be hit-and-miss. Instead, grab a bulb that was grown in the area and is probably used to our weather.

Field Trip: Beef

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How do you feel staring at the face of something you're going to eat? How about petting it? It's a pretty morbid thought. The knee-jerk reaction is that it's an awful thought.

I think that looking at an animal you're going to eat can be a deeply moving thing. It seems to add a bit of perspective to how we eat. I also find it deeply moving driving past those long, windowless barns in the country. Barns that are filled with thousands of chickens or pigs the furthest away from their natural state that they've ever been in the history of their species. Windowless barns that are a metaphor for the disconnect our modern world has with their food.

Grass-fed beef is leaner than feedlot beef. Which also means it's less marbled. Marbling, which is when fat begins to intermix with the muscle, occurs naturally to a certain degree in some cattle breeds, but it can be greatly enhanced by force-feeding the cow corn and other grains. Canadian and USA grading methods reward the most marbled beef with a "prime" label.

Cows aren't built to eat grains, they're built to eat grass, so when they eat grains, they begin to get sick. The modern cow is flirting with the edge of sickness. And the closer that cow flirts with that sickness, the more it's decorated by our government.

Mark Meloun lives two farms over from my parents'. He was looking for hay and found his way to my dad. Growing up, my sisters had horses, but since then they've either passed or been sold. Meanwhile, their grass still grew in the field. My dad started baling it for Mark to feed his cows through the winter and in return Mark gives my parents a couple cows a year. Mom usually gets the phone call from the local butcher and they pick up their cow butchered to order, filling a few boxes in back of the truck, and later, the chest freezer in the garage.

The local butcher is an incredible place. The one Mark uses is on a human scale. You could raise a pig in your back yard and take it to the butcher and they'd prepare it for you for a very reasonable sum. It's literally pennies compared to buying comparable meat from the grocery store. The only thing you have to factor in is the cost of raising the animal.

Purchasing a whole or half cow is a responsible way to get meat. You can't tell your butcher to give you all t-bones. He'll give you those, but he'll also give you brisket, rump, and every other part. Nothing goes to waste and nothing ends up in catch-all foods like hot dogs and chicken nuggets that are usually pretty unhealthy and end up on the tables of lower-income families or in school cafeterias while the more affluent sear their $30 striploin steaks.

We really enjoy eating meat. But with eating meat comes a burden to ensure that the meat you're eating has been treated fairly. Also, with eating all parts we've become a lot more flexible in the kitchen. Pulled brisket can be just as delicious as a perfectly seared steak, you just have to prepare it accordingly.

As for what cow we're eating next, it's the black one in the middle of the above image.

Field Trip: Feast of Fields

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This past Sunday, took a family road trip to Feast of Fields. We debated if we should bring the kids or get a babysitter but decided that since our kids love being outside, and love to eat, we'd be alright.

We headed to Cold Creek Conservation Area in King Township, checked in and got our bag full of goodies: a water bottle, wine glasses and napkins, a cookbook and some pamphlets. It looked like a huge farmers market, only there was a chef at most tents. The smell of burning wood and charcoal floated throughout the park and people wandered in all directions, hands full of food and drink.

We were immediately introduced to chef Roberto Fracchioni who was stirring Polenta in a huge copper pot over charcoal. He told us the copper pot allows the charcoal flavour to get through to the polenta. For a topping, he had some beef cheek simmering over another fire.

We wandered around a bit, tasting things like pumpkin beer, lamb served on a cracker with goat cheese, pulled beef wrapped in swiss chard (one of my personal favorites), dandelion ice cream and organic brie and spicy chocolate wrapped in home made tortillas. Some were delicious, some weren't. But it was all definitely worth a try!

We joined one long line and realized it led to the Belworth House's booth. It's a restaurant in Waterford Ontario which is where Jesse went to high school. Chef Tracey had some delicious spring rolls made with naturally raised beef, edamame (soy beans coated in a delicious spicy sauce) and later some spiced up corn dogs that were made from natural beef with a jalapeno batter. It was topped with a champange mustard and homemade elderberry ketchup.

One surprise was a hard apple cider from the Spirit Tree Estate Cidery in Caledon. It's hard to find a nice dry cider, and this was the best we've tasted. Not only do they make hard cider, they also make sweet apple cider, bread baked in a woodfire oven and carry a variety of local items in their market such as cheese, flour, honey and maple syrup. Unfortunately their hard cider isn't available at the LCBO, however we're planning a visit to watch them press and we'll absolutely pick up a case.

We talked to a couple from Plan B Organics, which is actually in nearby Flamborough, Ontario. They offer year round Community Shared Agriculture. We might order some local vegetables from them during the winter.

We took a break to make room for more food while and the kids danced on the grass in front of the stage where bands were rotating through all afternoon. Jesse disappeared and I found him talking to Garret from Seeds of Diversity. Jesse was asking him about seed potatoes and he was happily surprised to find out that they're his personal specialty.

It was a wonderful afternoon, and we found a lot of people that we look forward to visiting. The food was delicious, the drinks were delicious. It really was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon with our family. If you haven't been, and like eating, or as Jesse puts it "If you have a mouth," we would recommend that you check it out next year!

Feast of Fields

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sorry, no pictures on this post! It's just a heads up for where we're heading on Sunday. We're heading up to Feast of Fields, which bills itself as an organic event. It's on Sunday at Clear Creek Conservation Area north of Toronto. We were a bit wary that the event, which costs $100 per ticket, would be a lot of fancy people eating tiny fancy organic food, from fancy chefs. But after speaking with Chef Daniel Gilbert, who chairs the event, I was happy to hear it goes pretty deep.

Yes there will be a lot of fancy chefs, but Daniel assured me there will be way more food than you could ever eat, and from a lot of the best chefs around. And beyond that, a huge selection of farmers and producers will be there, so you'll be able to talk to the people who grew the food you're eating and chances are, you'll find someone from your area that you never knew about. Wineries and small brewers show up along with people not necessarily connected to food, like alternative energy companies. I'm especially looking forward to talking with Seeds of Diversity about some heirloom seed potatoes I'm trying to find.

Daniel said that people have expressed concern about the price in the past, but once they went, they were glad they did, and will keep coming. We're pretty optimistic and I get the feeling we're going to find a lot of people to visit for our Field Trips.

See you there.

Field Trip: The Neumann's Apiary

Saturday, September 4, 2010

We have been trying to visit an apiary, or honey bee farm for a while, and were playing broken telephone with one up north. But then I shamefully remembered my good friend David's dad, Adolf Neumann is a beekeeper, and his honey is highly regarded in his area.

We easily co-ordinated a visit and Adolf took me through the steps. But first, a little beehive 101. You can reference the image below at any time.

The bottom section of a hive is called the Brood Chamber. It's where the queen lives. The bees usually enter at the bottom and fill wooden frames with honey combs for her to lay her eggs in. Then on top of the brood chamber is a wire grid called the Queen Excluder, which, you guessed it, excludes the queen, but allows the worker bees to get up to the rest of the boxes which are called "Honey Supers". These boxes contain frames full of honey, and no eggs with of the absence of the queen.

So here's a big question: What is honey? I've been dying to tell you. It's bee puke. You know when bees are drinking the sweet nectar from flowers everywhere? They're not carrying it about in cute little metal buckets, they're... drinking it. And it has to get out somehow.

But this turns out to be a good thing. Since honey has essentially already been digested by a bee, it's a very easy sugar for your body to digest.

As I watched Adolf scrape the beeswax cap off each frame with a heated knife, and place them in the centrifugal extractor, I asked him why some honey we bought recently was called "raw honey." Thinking along the lines of milk, I asked him if it's dangerous to eat raw honey. He explained that honey is alive with enzymes (flashbacks to our dairy post) and that it's pasteurized for one reason: So that doesn't cloud up on the shelf of a supermarket. How pathetic are we that we have to screw with the most stable food on the planet? They've found perfectly edible honey in the tombs of ancient Egyptians, yet we still put it through unnecessary processing simply for aesthetic.

So next time you're buying honey, don't buy it at a supermarket. Many are labeled Canadian Honey, but are in fact, if you check the ingredients, a mixture of Canadian and Argentinian honey. Buy it from a small, local producer like Adolf, and buy it raw. It's not hard to find if you look, and since it might be a special trip, just buy a larger quantity.

It's not going to spoil any time soon.

Here's another video. Do you like them?

The Official Plan, which includes baking lots of bread

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I feel like we are actually getting somewhere, or being somewhat productive these days. Especially since Jesse and I sat down one night when the kids were in bed and made a plan to help us be more consistently out of the grocery store.

We go to two different butchers (one for chicken and eggs; the other for cheese, eggs and meat), so we decided to go to one on the 2nd saturday of the month, and the other 2 weeks later. This will hopefully keep our freezer and fridge stocked up. On the way home from each butcher we go to Bennet's Apple Store to get our apple cider, fresh peanut butter, apples and other vegetables, and if we need to, bread, pies, local honey and maple syrup. Oh, and we always end up with some cider doughnuts. It's a dangerous place to go on a saturday morning because the smells are amazing!

On the weekends off from the butchers', we scheduled a bread making day. My first batch of bread was heavy and very dense, perhaps from the lack of experience and not using a recipe. Jesse tried next and did a bit better.

One day when the kids were napping I decided to give it another go. I made 2 loaves of honey white bread, 2 loaves of a dark spelt and flax bread, along with a zucchini loaf and a banana loaf.

I actually changed the recipes a bit so that the white bread was half spelt, and I used quick rising yeast, rather than the conventional stuff. This way I only had to let it rise once. The bread was good, and we ate a lot more than we normally would in one day. The rest went in the freezer to eat as we needed. If you haven' tried making bread, you should.

Honey White & Spelt Bread

I make mine with an electric stand mixer with a dough hook attachment (you can also knead by hand if you don't have a stand mixer. Jesse's mom made bread for years and never used anything but elbow grease.)

• 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees)
• 2 packages (approx. 2 1/2 tsp each) quick rise yeast
• 1 tsp sugar

Dissolve the Yeast in the warm water and sugar. Let it sit for 5 minutes, until the mixture starts to bubble (this is how you will know if your yeast is active.)

• 1 1/2 cup warm whole milk
• 1 1/2 Tbs honey
• 2 large egg yolks

Mix to combine for 5 minutes while adding:

• 3 cups flour (I used part all purpose flour, and part dark spelt flour)
• 1 Tbs kosher salt

Slowly add 2 more cups of flour, just enough so that the dough doesn't stick to the bowl.
Knead for about 8 minutes in the mixer. Then 1 minute by hand.
Grease bread pan. Shape the dough into two balls per bread pan and place side by side.
Let rise in a warm, draft free place for 1 hour.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

And then try not to eat half of it while it's still warm!