Monday, 30 July 2007

Hilda's Summer Borscht

Hilda is my partner's grandmother, who passed this recipe on to his mother, who passed it on to him and to me. It goes together quickly, and makes a simple but very satisfying soup. I used chioggia beets for this with the result that it is a bit paler and perhaps milder than I am used it. It was just fine though.

4 servings
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

4 medium beets
3 medium potatoes
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons Sucanat
2 tablespoons good cider vinegar or lemon juice
the greens from the beets

yogurt or sour cream (optional)

Scrub the beets well. Peel and grate half of them, and peel and cut the other half into 1 centimetre cubes. Scrub and trim if necessary the potatoes. Cut them into 1 centimetre cubes.

Put the beets and potatoes into a soup pot and add water just to cover them. Add the salt, sucanat, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender; about 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash and pick over the beet greens. Chop them fairly finely and add them to the soup when the beets and potatoes are tender. Mix in and simmer for another 2 or 3 minutes.

Serve this hot or cold, with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt if you like.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

A Letter to Loblaws (Zehrs)

Dear Loblaws;

I have been shopping pretty regularly at Zehrs stores in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge for over 10 years. I've never loved the experience, but it's generally been okay.

About three or four days ago I went to what has been my regular Zehrs. I picked up a few items in my cart, got very frustrated trying to find other items, and ended up putting everything back and walking out. I don't think I've ever done that before.

I went to another grocery store, which I found suited my needs much better and was considerably cheaper to boot. I'll be doing a lot more of my shopping there. I won't give up on Zehrs entirely; if only because I do my banking there.

So what was the problem here? The problem was finding Ontario-grown produce. Zehrs has always been pretty terrible on the local-produce front, especially considering that it is in the middle of Ontario's prime growing territory. But this was pathetic, just pathetic. People; it's July. JULY. Ontario is bursting with local produce. Where the hell is it?

And now I read in the Globe and Mail and confirm on your web-site that

"At Loblaws we're avid supporters of Ontario grown produce! You'll find that our stores overflow with a huge selection of farm-fresh produce. The vibrant colours, freshness of the selection and mouthwatering taste pops during peak season. We work closely with our farmers in maintaining our high standards of excellence to ensure that you get the freshest and most flavourful fruits and vegetables possible. We're committed to this relationship - to you our customer and to our farmers!"

In the immortal words of Miss Manners: you are gravely mistaken.

I'd love to think you are about to turn over a new leaf, and that this reflects the future about to come. Because it sure doesn't reflect what I've seen over the past 10 years or so. If it wasn't for the fact that I can get most of my vegetables and meat at farmers' markets in this area, I would have found Zehr's to be a completely inadequate place to shop.

I guess I had intended to stew quietly about this, but the difference between the rhetoric and reality has pushed me to email this to you.



p.s. I will be posting a copy of this letter at my food-blog, under my nom-de-blog.

You may wish to check there for other peoples' comments.

Potato & Pepper Hash with Corn & Cheese

Not the world's most photogenic dish, but extremely tasty and rib-sticking. I call for an onion here, but I discovered I didn't have any so I used a good handful - 6 or 8 - of my garlic scapes. That worked well.

2 or 3 servings
1 hour - 45 minutes prep time

Potato & Pepper Hash with Corn & CheeseHere it is, as glammed up as I can get it.

Making Potato & Pepper Hash with Corn & CheeseBut really; it's hash. It's happiest hanging out in the kitchen.

4 large potatoes
2 yellow banana peppers
1 large onion
6 cobs of corn

1/4 cup cooking oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
125 grams (1/4 pound) old cheddar cheese, cubed

Clean and cut the potatoes into dice. Boil them until tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the stems and seeds from the peppers, and chop them finely. Keep the fingies away from the eyes for the rest of the day! Peel and chop the onion.

You can cook the corn now, and cut it from the cobs, but it will be hard to do this as it will be hot. You can run them under cold water but is better if you can cook the corn earlier. When I buy a dozen ears of corn, I cook them all at once and we eat six on the cob for lunch. The next day, I have six cobs of corn ready for this.

Heat about half or two-thirds of the oil in a very large skillet. Add the drained potatoes. (If you are cooking the corn now; drain the potatoes by lifting them out with a slotted spoon, and use the boiling water to cook the corn.)

Add the prepared peppers and onion. Mix well and cook over medium heat, lifting and turning regularly. You want a nice brown patina to build up on the bottoms of the potatoes, but you do not want them to burn. Scrape up and mix in anything that sticks, but if it looks like sticking too much or scorching, you had better add a little more oil. Season with salt and pepper at some point during this process.

When the potatoes have achieved a degree of brownness that makes you happy, add the corn and heat through. When the corn is pretty much hot, mix in the cheese cubes and let melt for a minute or two. Serve at once.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Lentil, Roasted Onion & Spinach Salad

This is rather a lot of work - well, I shouldn't say that; more just time consuming - none of it is difficult and the results are excellent. It can also be made ahead; just add the dressing to the salad at the last minute.

4-6 servings
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time

Lentil, Roasted Onion & Spinach SaladLentils:
1 cup green or brown lentils
1 bay leaf
pinch salt
2 cups water

Put all these items in your rice cooker. Turn on and let cook. Leave until cool, or if you want to assemble the salad right away, rinse them in cold water and drain well. Remove the bay leaf.

Roasted Onions:
2 medium onions
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

Peel and chop the onions. Toss them with the oil in a roasting dish, and roast them for 20 minutes to an hour, until cooked and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. I am giving such a range of times, because it seems hardly worth turning on the oven for just these. They can be made ahead, while the oven is on for some other purpose. If you are doing just the onions, I would turn it on at 450°F and do them fairly quickly. Just remember to watch them and stir.

Salad Dressing:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
the juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt, crushed
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed, crushed

Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice and seasonings, crushed if necessary. If you are ambitious, you could toast the cumin seed in a dry skillet before crushing it and adding it to the dressing.

To Assemble the Salad:
450 grams (1 pound) baby spinach leaves

Wash and pick over the spinach. Drain well, and chop coarsely. Cook it in just whatever water is still clinging to it until just wilted. Rinse under cold water at once to stop it cooking any further. Squeeze firmly to remove excess liquid, then chop it finely and toss it with the cooked lentils and onions.

This is an excellent salad to make ahead; but the salad should not sit in the dressing or the lemon juice will bleach the spinach. Toss the salad in the dressing just before serving.

A Visit to Hamilton Farmers' Market

Another (Satur)day, another farmers' market - this time the Hamilton Farmers' Market. We came down Highway 6, exited at Plains Road West, turned onto York Boulevard (there was a brief moment of confusion until I realized there was York Road AND York Boulevard) and cruised along York Blvd until some very clear signage suggested it was time to park. We found a street spot with no trouble, and since it was Saturday we didn't even have to feed the meter.

It's advertised on their sign as the Farmers' Market and Library, but the the market is definitely the more prominent of the two.

Whoah! It's HUGE! We can walk down a ramp here...

or up the ramp here... mostly the butchers on the upper level, although a few other things as well...

or take a peek over the side and see what treats await us down below.

Not only is it quite a large market, it is much more of a fixture throughout the week than most farmers' markets. The good news is that that means a much wider range of foods in addition to convenience for shoppers as far as when they can show up. The bad news is, that not all of it is local, seasonal food by any means. There are a number of sellers who advertise their own local produce, in addition to quite a few who clearly import most of their stuff. However, even when shopping at the booths that offer local produce, you have to watch out - a lot of them have brought in supplementary products. When in doubt, ask.

The Hamilton Farmer's Market also has a large selection of prepared foods and baked goods - I saw some rotisserie chickens that looked mouthwatering, although we ended up getting a selection of goodies from a place that seemed mostly Indian, but who also had Philipino and Jamaican choices as well.

Many of the local producers of food seemed to be not only farmers, but processors or small business people as well.

If we lived in Hamilton, I am sure we would shop at the Farmers' Market regularly. However, I did notice that the prices were considerably higher than we have been paying at the other markets we have been to. This was in no way a budget-saving maneuver.

Still, we came home with a great selection of goodies - I'll be canning those sour cherries and making another batch of pesto for the freezer; and there should be a chicken dish, peas, and a whole bunch of summer squash coming later in the week, bacon, tomatoes, carrots, not to mention the peaches and apricots. The flour is arepa (corn) meal. The label says product of Canada; but who knows if that means grown here, or just milled here. I'll see if I can find out.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Raspberry Cream & Chocolate Wafer Pudding

Okay, pushing it on the 80% product of Ontario front again, but this is just sooo delicious - and frighteningly rich. Actually, my Mom made this at least a few times when I was a kid, and I think a lot of people my age will remember it - it's full of calories and nostalgia. The recipe is still on the wafer package, albeit they call for - sorry - Cool Whip, and no raspberries. Gack. Don't go there. Really; just don't. I think frozen berries would work for this pretty well, although in that case you might want to re-think the garnish.

Normally it is presented as a kind of cake, but I don't have the patience to sit there and glue wafers together. Just as well, as the wafers I bought seemed to have some kind of engineering flaw, and almost all of them broke down the middle as soon as they were picked up. Made like this, its relationship to trifles is quite clear, and I wonder about adding a little raspberry liqueur...

8 servings
2 hours 15 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla, or maybe that raspberry liqueur
2 cups fresh raspberries
1 200 gram package Christie's chocolate wafers
another cup or so of fresh raspberries

Beat the whipping cream with the sugar and vanilla or liqueur, until stiff.

Lightly mash the 2 cups of raspberries and fold them in.

Smear a little of the raspberry cream over the bottom of a flat-bottomed dish. Lay as many wafers over it as will fit. Continue to layer whipped cream and wafers until the wafers are gone, and finish with a layer of whipped cream.

In order to have enough whipped cream at the end, you need to be as stingy with it on each layer as possible. Believe me, when you eat it you will notice no shortage.

Use your remaining raspberries to stud the top of the pudding. Cover and keep it in the fridge for at least 4 hours. During this time the wafers will absorb liquid from the cream, making the whole thing voluptuously soft. Even the most diet-conscious person is pretty much guaranteed to throw it all to the wind and fall into this face first.

Roasted Pepper, Tomato and Bean Salad

This salad was very popular, although I wish I could have given it a bit more colour. All my peppers and tomatoes were shades of yellowy-orange, and more variety would be better; also I was fairly shy on the cilantro. Never mind; it all disappeared very quickly. This could be made all year round with greenhouse peppers and tomatoes, but with the peppers and tomatoes that will begin showing up at farmers' markets soon, it should be especially good.

4 servings
30 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Roasted Pepper, Tomato and White Bean SaladSalad:
2 large peppers, your choice of red, green, yellow or orange
6 to 8 cherry tomatoes
1-2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 540 ml (19 ounce) tin white navy beans
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup minced cilantro

Put on the broiler, and set the rack so that the peppers will be 3 or 4 inches from it. Cut the peppers in half, and remove and discard stems and seeds. Brush the peppers with the grapeseed oil and lay them on a cookie sheet or other broiling pan. Roast them until they are somewhat soft and the skins begin to char. Turn them once during the process. Put them in a container with a lid while they are hot, and let them cool for about 5 or 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes in half and brush them with oil. Roast them until soft.

Peel the peppers and discard the peels. Dice them and mix them with the roasted tomatoes and the drained beans. Mince the cilantro and mix it in.

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Whisk the dressing ingredients together and toss into the salad. This salad can stand for a while before being eaten, which makes it good to take on a picnic or for entertaining.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Curried Russian Salad

Russian Salad - or as I tend to think of it, Ensalada Rusa (it's at least as well known in Spanish-speaking countries as it is Russia) - is a very versatile recipe. It almost always has potatoes, cut in cubes, but from there it can contain just about any mixture of cooked cubed vegetables, perhaps with cubes of meat (ham, chicken, tongue, etc) and/or cheese. The dressing is cream or mayonnaise based, or perhaps some combination of the two. It's often served nicely mounded into a shape and garnished quite elaborately. Somehow, though, this is pretty much what I always end up putting in, and I don't worry about its sloppy natural shape. This is a natural repository for left-overs, so check your fridge for new and fabulous combinations.

6 servings
45 minutes - 25 minutes prep time

Curried Russian Salad, or Ensalada RusaSalad:
6 or 8 small red potatoes
2 or 3 cups cauliflower florets
1 medium carrot
125 grams (1/4 pound) green beans
125 grams (1/4 pound) yellow wax beans

Cut the vegetables in cubes, or in the case of the cauliflower, break it into small florets. Cook the vegetables until tender. If you are good at timing, you can cook them all in one pot; if you are not so good you had better do it seperately. As already noted, some componants can be leftovers from another meal.

Drain the cooked vegetables and run under cold water to cool. Drain well again.

2 or 3 green onions
2 tablespoons minced parsley (optional)
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill (optional)
1 cup light cream
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon mild Madras curry powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
1 teaspoon sea salt

Mince the onions, and the parsley and dill, if using, and mix the herbs with the cream and sour cream. Dissolve the curry in the vinegar, and add the salt and pepper. Exact quantities will depend on your taste and how mild the curry is. In my opinion the curry should be fairly subtle - it's a salad first and foremost. Mix the vinegar into the cream mixture.

Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well. Serve chilled, on lettuce leaves if you like.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Spaghetti with Pea and Garlic Scape Pesto with Mint

The English combination of peas and mint collides with Italian pesto on pasta - and the result is pretty darn good.

There's going to be a lot of spaghetti and linguine showing up on this blog for a while I suspect. We buy our pasta in bulk from Costco, and last time we were there we ended up with 2 4-packs of spaghetti due to accidentally stealing one (don't ask; we did go back and pay for it) and then this week my sweetie came home with 10 more packages of linguine from Liquidation World. We had two packs of pasta in the cupboard already. Sooo, that makes 20 packages or 40 meals worth of pasta in the cupboard. Oh my. I think I had better start contributing to Presto Pasta Nights at Once Upon A Feast. Pronto.

2 servings
20 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Spaghetti with Peas and Garlic Scape Pesto with Mint
2 cups fresh shelled green peas (1 quart/litre with the pods)
8 garlic scapes
3 to 4 stems of fresh mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup grated extra-old Cheddar cheese
extra peas if you like
250 grams spaghetti

Shell the peas.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil to cook the spaghetti.

Blanch the peas for 2 or 3 minutes. Drain them and puree them with the garlic scapes, the mint leaves stripped from their stems, the crushed peppercorns, the salt and the olive oil.

Grate the cheese.

When the spaghetti is done, drain it and toss it with the pesto and the cheese. Add some extra cooked peas if you like.

Not Exactly Graham Crackers

I'm kind of excited about these. I've been craving graham crackers lately for some reason, but because I prefer not to eat wheat, I needed to make my own. After making several batches, I think I have two versions perfected. This one is not gluten-free; the other one is. I'll be posting it a little later. They work just fine ground up for use in graham cracker crusts.

Note: Thanks to the flax seed, which looks modest and unassuming but which is a high-powered mover and shaker in the world of fibre if you know what I mean and I think you do, these probably have about 10 times the fibre of an ordinary graham cracker. Treat them with respect. You have been warned.

Makes 16 to 20 crackers
20 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Wheat-free Graham Crackers made with flax, oats and barley2/3 cup ground flax seed plus 1 tablespoon
2/3 cup barley flour
2/3 cup oat flour
5 tablespoons Sucanat
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ cup butter
¼ cup honey
1 tablespoon molasses

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large cookie tray with parchment paper.

Sift the ground flax seed into a mixing bowl. Discard whatever is too large to go through. Generally, this should be about 1 tablespoonful.

Sift in all the remaining dry ingredients and mix well.

Put the butter, honey and molasses in a small pot or microwave-proof dish and heat until the butter is melted.

Mix the butter mixture into the dry ingredients.

Roll out the dough on the parchment paper. (You may need to remove it from the cookie tray while you do so.) It should be about ¼ inch thick. Prick it all over with a fork – this is important as it lets steam escape and makes them crunchy – and cut it into 16 or 20 squares with a pizza cutter.

Bake for 10 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. Re-cut the squares and let the crackers cool. Break them apart and eat, or use in other recipes calling for graham crackers. They will keep stored in an airtight tin for at least a week.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Broccoli Stem, Cabbage & Carrot Stir-Fry

While I love the green, flowery tops of broccoli, the sad truth is that broccoli stems leave me pretty cold. At one point in my life I dutifully ate them anyway. Then I rebelled and started throwing them away, but my thrifty gene twanged and twinged every time I did. Fortunately, I have found a way to make both my tastebuds and my cheapitude happy. This is it.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes - 12 minutes prep time

Broccoli Stem, Cabbage & Carrot Stir-Fry: a way to use up those less-than-popular broccoli stems2-3 broccoli stems (from 1 bunch)
1 large carrot
2-3 leaves from a savoy cabbage
3-4 green onions
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Peel the broccoli stems, but don't cut off the end. Grate the stems down to the end stubs, and discard the stubs and any stringy bits that didn't grate well.

Peel and grate the carrot. Discard the thick cabbage stems, and finely shred the rest of the leaves. Finely chop the green onions.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and add all the prepared vegetables at once. Sprinkle the water over the top.

Cook over medium-high heat for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the water is evaporated. Sprinkle over the soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, and continue cooking and stirring for 3 or 4 minutes more until the vegetables are crisp-tender.

Leeks & Spinach

This is a combination of vegetables that I really, really like. My only difficulty lies in defining how much spinach I use. Use as much as you think is 4 servings of spinach when mixed with a bunch of leeks. I used an entire little bag of baby spinach for this, but unfortunately I don't know how much it weighed. I'd say it was about 6 cups, loosely packed.

4 servings
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Leeks and Spinach2 or 3 large leeks
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
2/3 cup chicken or other stock
1 bunch spinach

Trim the leeks, leaving only the white and pale green parts. Slice them in half lengthwise, then in short slices crosswise.

Wash them again and drain them well.

In a large skillet, sauté the leeks in the butter until they soften and begin to fall apart, then stir in the flour. Add the stock and season lightly with salt and nutmeg, stirring well.

Simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash the spinach and pick it over. Drain it well and chop it finely.

Add the spinach to the leeks and simmer for a further 5 minutes, stirring to ensure that the spinach is evenly wilted.

Dill Pickles by the Jar

This was the first recipe for dill pickles I ever made, and it's still a favourite. I like the technique of making the pickles right in the jar instead of in a crock - it's easy, clean and compact, and it produces excellent pickles. I consider it well worth while to pay extra to get the smallest cucumbers I can find. They take longer to pick - that's why they cost more - and they take longer to wash. However, you end up with a more conveniently sized pickle in the end.

The recipe makes 1 quart (litre) of pickles - multiply it by the number of quarts (litres) of cucumbers that you have. I also use this brine to make pickled mixed green beans, wax beans and carrots cut in pieces the same general size and shape as the beans.

1 quart (litre) pickles
6 weeks - 1 hour prep time per quart, but 8 quarts will take about 4 hours

Scrubbing cucumbers to make dill picklesFirst the cucumbers must be scrubbed - well scrubbed. Every bit of limp old blossom, grit and dirt must come off. I've heard more than one person say they put their cucumbers in their washing machine to wash them. I haven't tried it. All I can say is if I do try it, it will need to be a top-loading machine and I will stop it before it goes through the spin cycle. The problem is it isn't worth it unless you are doing a lot of cucumbers, and I would be nervous about putting $20 or $30 dollars worth of cucumbers in the washing machine.

Once they are scrubbed, they are stuffed into sterilized jars with the dill and any other spices you choose to add.

Ladling brine into jars to make dill picklesThe hot brine is ladled into the jars filled with cucumbers.

Finished jars of dill picklesThe capped, finished jars of cucumbers quickly turn from a brilliant emerald green to typical pickle khaki. They will be ready to eat in 6 weeks.

1 quart small fresh cucumbers

1 1/2 cups filtered water
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons pickling salt
2-3 sprigs fresh dill seedheads
1-2 cloves of garlic (optional)
1 dried hot pepper (optional)

Scrub the cucumbers throughly; be sure to get every bit of dried-out blossom and grit off of them.

Put however many quart (litre) canning jars that you think you will need (the number of quarts of cucumbers that you have bought) into a canner and cover them with water to an inch above the rims. Bring to a boil and boil them for 10 minutes.

Make the brine with the water, vinegar and salt; put them in a pot and heat until the salt is dissolved and the brine is steaming.

Put a couple of good heads of dill seed (which should be fully formed, but still green) into each sterilized jar. Add a clove of garlic and/or a dried hot pepper if desired.

Pack the jar with cucumbers. I find it easiest to start with the jar on its side, laying some of the larger cucumbers along the bottom, then stacking on top of them. Use the end of a large wooden spoon or chopstick to gently push in more cukes once it gets snug in there. Then repeat with a second row of stacked cukes, picking up ones that will fit in without sticking too far up in the jar. There may then be room to lay a couple very small cucumbers on top.

Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers and cap at once with a sterilized lid.

Do not hot water process. Store the jars on newspaper, in case they overflow while fermenting. They can be opened in 6 weeks, but will continue to improve for a while. However, they should be eaten within the year.

First of the Fall Fairs! - Listowel Fair

It's the middle of July, practically! However the first town fair that I know of - usually they are fall fairs - was held this past weekend in Listowel. After we shopped at the Stratford Market, we headed north to Listowel. We had a little picnic in the local park first so as to avoid succumbing to overpriced fair food. It felt very much like a typical fall fair, although the main animals were dairy cows - the theme of the fair was "Dairy Daze" - and horses, and there wasn't any produce on display. It was a beautiful day, not hot and with a cool breeze that helped that fall-fair feeling.

Alas, I didn't get a picture of the handsome brick building that houses the indoor exhibits. However, we went in...

... and were greeted by this exuberent display of flower arrangements. As usual, not being there on the first day meant that if you looked closely they were starting to look a little tired, but the overall effect was impressive none-the-less.

A typical feature of fall fairs is artwork from the local schools. Here is a whole herd of Holstein cows, as depicted by a grade 1 class. Moooooo!

Okay, now we're getting to the good stuff! Food! An array of (mostly) baked goods displayed on classic screened stands.

Mm, mm. Where do you sign up to be a judge?

My own particular interest - the home canning section.

We left the main display building and headed outside. We could see there was some action off to the left, but we decided to head straight down the midway for starters.

I just love walking down the midway. It's so colourful and tacky. Just don't ask me to part with my money.

It was just past noon and things weren't really flying yet, although a few people were riding the ferris wheel. I have to say, if I had gone on any, that would have been the one.

At the end of the midway there is a large set of stands, where we could watch some percherons being judged. I love those big, furry feet!

Lining up for the ribbons. We particularly liked the one at the end, that came in last. It was charmingly gangly. It was also rather nervous and jumpy, and I suspect the things we liked about it were exactly why it didn't do well.

The biggest food line up was at a utilitarian little hut behind the stands. This was the fairs own food seller. It was pretty standard hot dogs and hamburgers, by the looks of things, but at least half the price of the midway food, which didn't look great either. The scent in the air gave new meaning to the phrase "ancient grease". I loved it, actually. I just wouldn't want to eat it.

A large and impressive display of "vintage" tractors.

The boys just can't resist the toys.

Although there was a tent full of childrens' activities that was very popular too.

I think this might have been the highlight of the fair! Learn to milk on a mechanical cow! It was a big hit, and we all had to try it too. How realistic was it? I dunno, now I need to find out...!

Next we watched some calves being exhibited by very young entrants. This would have been their first time showing an animal at the fair, and many of them were young enough to

be accompanied by a parent. Most of the calves thought they had better things to do than march around a ring on a

sunny summer afternoon, and a number of tugs of war took

place. This one is supposed to be facing the other way.

Most Holsteins are black and white, but occasionally you

get one that is red and white. This is the only red and white

calf that was in the ring. No ribbons were awarded to these young contestants, but next year they will be in the running for ribbons and prizes.

Here's where the would-be beauty queens rested up and were groomed. Almost all the cows were Holsteins, but there were a few Jerseys.

And three of a kind I had never seen before. I was told they were Dairy Short-horn cows. Very pretty!

It's been a while since I've seen such squeaky-clean cows - probably at the last fair I went to.

We strolled back up through the vintage tractors. Some pretty old tractors there; and they all seemed to still be in good working order.

Back at the main stands they were now judging 4-horse teams with wagons. They were quite exciting to watch: round and round they went, then started in on figure eights. Finally, they were weaving in and out most spectacularly.

They kicked up quite a lot of dust, even though a truck had gone through and sprinkled the track first.

At this point we decided we had seen pretty much everything, and having gotten up and going pretty early in the morning were starting to fade. We had a nice drive back home through the beautiful green countryside.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

A Visit to the Stratford Farmers Market

Saturday! A busy day again. This time, we picked up a friend and headed out to Stratford for their Farmers Market. I didn't print out a map, which was a mistake - it isn't well labelled in Stratford, so you need to know how to find the Stratford Fairgrounds where it is held. However, we did find it quickly after stopping and asking for directions.

Looks like a whoooole lot of other people have found it too. This was a very popular market, and we were lucky to find a parking spot. Mind you, it's pretty clear that a lot of locals walk to and from the market - one of the ways we knew we were getting close was by the number of veggie-laden pedestrians we were passing.

Outside at the Stratford Farmers MarketAt first I thought it looked pretty small for all this hub-bub. And it isn't huge; although it did seem to have a good selection of most things. I didn't find more sour cherries alas, but on the other hand I spotted some nice small pickling cucumbers for the first time. Tomorrow we will be making dill pickles! And we got the first round of peaches and apricots, as well as a lovely, bargain cauliflower - half the price it would have been at the supermarket, some hot yellow peppers, some chioggia beets and a big handful of garlic chives for a dollar. I've been hearing people grousing about farmers market prices recently, but I thought the prices here were very reasonable.

The main building of the Stratford Farmers MarketOh, wait - there's more inside?

Indeed! The usual array of butchers and bakers, as well as a few handcrafts, beans, honey and eggs. We found some pies, quiches and potato salad for sale in one corner, and stocked up with lunch goodies so we wouldn't have to buy food at our next stop.

The Blanbrook Bison Farm booth at the Stratford Farmers MarketBison, or buffalo, meat. That's something different...

Well, that was successful. Next we went back to the car and packed as many of our goodies as we could into our large picnic cooler. After all, they're going to have to sit in the car all afternoon. Stay tuned...