Sunday, 31 May 2009

The Black Fly Song

'Twas early in the spring when I decide to go,
For to work up in the woods in North Ontario;
And the unemployment office said they'd see me through
To the Little Abitibi with the survey crew.
And the black flies, the little black flies
Always the black fly no matter where you go
I'll die with the black fly a-pickin' on my bones
In North Ontario, io, in North Ontario.
Now the man Black Toby was the captain of the crew,
And he said "I'm gonna tell you boys what we're gonna do;
They want to build a power dam and we must find a way
For to make the little Ab flow around the other way."
So we survey to the east and we survey to the west,
And we couldn't make our minds up how to do it best.
Little Ab, Little Ab, what shall I do?
For I'm all but goin' crazy on the survey crew.
It was blackfly, blackfly, blackfly, everywhere,
A-crawlin in your whiskers, a- crawlin in your hair;
A-swimmin' in the soup and a-swimmin' in the tea
Oh the Devil take the blackfly and leave me be.
Black Toby fell to swearin' cuz the work went slow,
And the state of our morale was a-gettin' mighty low,
And the flies swarmed heavy; it was hard to catch a breath,
As you staggered up and down the trail, talkin' to yourself.
Now the bull cook's name was Blind River Joe;
If it hadn't been for him, we'd've never pulled through.
For he bound up our bruises and he kidded us for fun,
And he lathered us with bacon grease and balsam gum.
At last the job was over; Black Toby said "We're through
With the Little Abitibi and the survey crew."
T'was a wonderful experience and this I know,
I'll never go again to North Ontario.
Wade Hemsworth

Well, so much for that theory. I mean the one I had that there weren't that many mosquitos here, and no blackflies to speak of. There's a shit-load of the little bastards, both of them. I've just managed to avoid coming up to visit Mom when they were at their peak, or maybe she doesn't have 'em. I dunno.

Mosquitos are annoying, but black flies are of the devil. It's not just the biting, it's the swarms of them that crowd around you, trying to get into your eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Fortunately it's been sunny the last few days; like other vampires they prefer not to be out in the full light of the sun.

I find they don't make me quite as itchy as they did when I was a kid and we used to go to our cottage in Muskoka. There were a lot more of them there, too. I figured for every wild strawberry I picked I got a mosquito or black fly bite. When I got bitten then I would swell up in red welts the size of a quarter, with a bleeding hole in the middle that would trickle for what seemed like hours. Now the bites are no worse than mosquito bites, which is not to say I haven't spent hours scratching. It must be my tired old immune system; it can't be arsed anymore. Just as well. I couldn't figure out though, why I wasn't bleeding now. I thought they injected an anti-coagulant to keep the supply flowing.

I was congratulating myself on having escaped that aspect of it, when I absent-mindedly put up my hand to scratch the back of my head, and found a little line of lumpy clots gluing my hair to the back of my neck.

Well, so much for that theory.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Coconut Macaroon Tart with Tart Fruit

Yes, yes, I know. Rhubarb isn't exactly a fruit. However, it works well in this tart; coconut and rhubarb is an under-used combination but they go well together. A little lemon zest is nice with the rhubarb too.

I've also made this with my own canned cherries, and I don't see why it wouldn't work very well with a wide assortment of fruits. I'm planning to make it again when fresh cherries are in season. In general, I think it will do best with brightly coloured fruits that have some tartness to them. I'm not really seeing it with peaches, apples or pears for instance. Raspberries, though; they would be good. I'm not sure how blueberries would work; they might be best with a generous quantity of lime zest in the macaroon layer.

I'm sending this one over to Fresh Produce of the Month, at an Italian in the US. The fresh produce of the month is indeed rhubarb, as seems right to me. Have I said I have 15 plants? I'm still bemused about it, but apparently everyone who plants rhubarb sooner or later has some ridiculous number of plants. They're like irises which have to be divided every 4 or 5 years. The guy across the street has at least a dozen too. The thing is, when you divide them; hey! Perfectly good rhubarb roots. You can't just throw them away, and I'm not sure composting is possible. You'd just end up with rhubarb on steroids taking over the compost heap, because they lo-oo-ove compost. (Kind of like the best potatoes I ever grew were from some squishy ones that got thrown on the compost. Every week we'd go dump more stuff on them, and every week they would nom-nom-nom it up.) Anyway, check it out.

12 to 18 servings
1 hour - 35 minutes prep time

Coconut Macaroon Tart with Rhubarb
Make the Crust:
1 1/2 cups soft unbleached flour
1/4 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter
3 or 4 tablespoons cold water

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the sugar and salt into the flour. Cut the butter in until it is the size of small peas. Mix in the water until the mixture shows signs of sticking together and forming a mass of dough. At this point I find it easiest to finish mixing it by hand. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking pan.

Bake the crust for 15 minutes, until just browning at the edges. Leave the oven on at 350°F, and let the crust cool while you prepare the filling.

Make the Macaroon Filling:
2 cups dessicated unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup tapioca flour (or wheat flour is okay)

3 extra-large egg whites
2/3 to 3/4 cup of sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
OR 1 tablespoon finely minced preserved ginger (optional)
OR 1 teaspoon flavouring extract such as vanilla or almond (optional)

Put the coconut and tapioca flour in a small bowl, mix well, and set aside. If you want to add ginger to the macaroon, it should be mixed into the coconut as well.

Put the egg whites, sugar and salt in a bowl over a pot of simmering water (double boiler.) You can add the lemon zest or extract here as well, if you are using one of them. The amount of sugar should be chosen to accord with your fruit; more sugar for more sour fruits.

Heat gently over low heat, beating constantly with an electric mixer, until the mixture is greatly expanded, smooth and shiny. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes or so.

Gently fold in the coconut mixture.

Assemble the Tart & Bake:
4 cups prepared fruits, such as:
- rhubarb
- cherries, sliced plums or apricots
- sliced (halved) strawberries or raspberries

Spread the macaroon batter evenly over the prepared, slightly cooled crust. Top it with the prepared fruit, which should cover about 3/4 or more of the surface, but allow the macaroon to appear here and there.

Bake the tart for about 25 minutes until the fruit is soft and the macaroon filling is golden brown. Let cool before cutting and serving.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Barley Tabouli

Tabouli (tabbouli, or tabouleh) is a very popular Lebanese salad made with cracked wheat. I've replaced the cracked wheat with cooked barley since I don't know of any local producer of cracked wheat. The result is a little softer in texture, but just as good in my opinion; especially if you are a barley lover.

You can use more or less of the herbs, as you like or as you have, but they should be kept more or less in proportion. The parsley can dominate a bit more than I have it here, but don't let it take over completely.

2 to 4 servings
15 minutes prep time - but 2 hours advance prep required, at least

Barley Tabbouli
Make the Salad:
1/2 cup raw barley
a pinch of salt
1 cup minced green onions or chives
- can also put in a couple of minced garlic scapes, if in season
OR a small clove of garlic, finely minced
1 cup minced parsley
1 cup minced fresh mint
1 or 2 small Mediterranean type cucumbers (optional)
20 to 24 grape (small cherry) tomatoes

Cook the barley with a pinch of salt in 1 1/2 cups water. As ever, I do this in my rice cooker, and I cook extra to have on hand for other dishes and salads.

Wash, drain well, and mince the green onions or chives, the garlic scapes or garlic if available and wanted, the parsley and the mint.

Cut the cucumbers into small bite-sized pieces, if you are adding cucumbers.

When the barley is cool, break it up with wet hands, and mix it with the herbs and cucumbers. Toss it with the dressing.

I have left the tomatoes for last, as the salad can be made ahead and kept in the fridge for up to 24 hours - without the tomatoes. At any rate, I think the salad does well to rest for at least half an hour once the dressing has been added. Rinse the tomatoes and cut them in halves or quarters, and add them to the salad at the last moment.

Make the Salad Dressing:
the juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
a pinch of cayenne or other hot ground chile

Whisk or shake together and set aside until wanted.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Gluten-Free Wedding Cake - The Final Take - Almond Pound Cake

I forgot to take a picture of the actual cake part of my latest attempt at the recipe for a wedding cake for my cousin, so you get a close up of the marzipan decorations instead. I think they're okay, for supporting players in a decorative role, although I still don't know where I'm going to come up with the talent for the main event.

However, I adjusted the ingredients a little in the cake, and I now do indeed have a final version. I think the coconut flour tended to make it a little dry, so I reduced the amount of flour very slightly, and replaced some of the coconut flour with tapioca starch. This one had a great texture, kept for several days, and sliced nicely. Victory!

Cake with Marzipan Decorations
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup rice flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1 cup finely ground blanched almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of an 8" round baking pan with parchment paper, and butter the paper and sides of the pan.

Cream the butter with the sugar and salt. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the almond extract and the water.

Measure the flours, ground nuts and baking powder and mix them together. Mix this into the wet ingredients in two equal batches.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out. It will be fairly stiff. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Last year at this time I made Black Bean Soup with Asparagus.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Lentil & Feta Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Asparagus, This Time

We had our annual Quaker potluck to bring together people from our rather large and spread out geographic area on Sunday, and this is what I brought. I found some really nice de Puy lentils at the 100 Mile Market that I used. It was a simple little salad, and apart from the asparagus and green onions and chives from the garden it was all cupboard staples, but it worked out well.

You could make this all summer, just replacing the asparagus with other vegetables as they come into season. Peas would work, or green beans or broccoli.

8 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

Lentil and Feta Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Asparagus
Make the Salad:
2 cups du Puy, brown or green lentils
1/2 cup (12) sun-dried tomatoes
1 cup chopped green onions and chives
150 to 200 grams (1/3 pound) feta cheese
450 grams (1 pound) asparagus, or other green vegetable

As ever, I cooked the lentils in my rice cooker, with 4 cups of water. Otherwise, cook them on the stove with the same amount of water, until tender. You may need to drain them.

Meanwhile, put the dried tomatoes in a pot with water to just cover them, and bring them to a boil. Cover the pot and let them soak for about 10 minutes. Lift them out to cool, then chop them and add them to the lentils when they are ready. Keep the soaking liquid.

Wash and finely chop the green onions and chives, and add them to the lentils. Crumble in the feta cheese. Cook the asparagus until just tender, then cool it under running water. Drain it well and chop it fairly finely before it too goes into the salad.

Make the Dressing:
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup sunflower seed oil
1/3 cup soaking water from the dried tomatoes
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, ground
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano

Whisk together all of the above ingredients, and toss them into the salad. This may be a bit more dressing than wanted, in which case just keep the leftovers for another salad.

Last year at this time I made Bean Salad, Again. Why yes, we do eat a lot of bean and lentil based salads, especially at this time of year.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Sherry Stewed Rhubarb

You would think someone who now owns no fewer than 15 big, overgrown rhubarb plants would have posted some recipes for it by now. However, I've been selling it (!) and also just stewing it and eating it plain. I've discovered there are at least two different kinds in the garden, and one of them is really special - small, thin stalks which are bright red, tender and flavourful. A bit less sour than standard rhubarb, so less sugar is needed. It's really delightful stewed with a little sherry. If this isn't the kind of rhubarb you have, you will likely need more sugar than I have listed.

I'm happy to have a contribution for Fresh Produce of the Month at an Italian in the US. I'm sure there will be many more rhubarb ideas there.

6 servings
20 minutes prep time

Sherry Stewed Rhubarb
4 cups diced raw rhubarb
1/3 cup sweet sherry
2/3 cup sugar

Clean, trim and dice the rhubarb, and put it in a pot with the sherryand sugar. Cover and bring to a strong simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until the rhubarb has softened and disintegrated. Taste and add a little more sugar if you feel it needs it. Serve warm or cool, with or without cream, custard or ice cream.

Last year at this time I made Leftover Fish Casserole.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

The Handi-Snack Experiment

" Goodman: I was a whole grain baker in Maine, and I would consider the coup to be to get our whole grain organic breads in the schools of Maine for the kids, but we just couldn't compete with Wonder Bread which could stay on the shelf -- I don't know if it was a year.

Pollan: That's amazing.

Goodman: Ours, after a few days, of course, would get moldy, because it was alive.

Pollan: Right. And, in fact, one of my tips is, don't eat any food that's incapable of rotting. If the food can't rot eventually, there's something wrong."

From an Interview of Michael Pollan with Amy Goodman.

Back in the early days of my career as a landlord, we had a tenant who was the mother of two small children who spent a lot of time running around outside. She kept them fueled with a steady stream of snacks; more than they could eat really, so we were frequently picking up discarded food that they had dropped.

At one point, sometime in May, one of them opened then dropped, uneaten, a Handi-Snack packet.

I noticed it on the ground as I rushed from the car into the apartment, but I had my hands full and couldn't pick it up right away. Later, I forgot about it. I noticed it again, a few days later, but again I had my hands full, or was in a rush, or something, and I left it.

After a couple of weeks of noticing this thing, but failing to pick it up, I noticed something else. I noticed that the open contents of this little plastic packet looked exactly the same as the first time I saw it. It was strange (and orange.)

I began not picking it up on purpose. I wondered when it would begin to decompose, since it was obviously going unrecognized as food by the local cat, squirrel, dog, mouse, skunk, racoon, ant, beetle, insects generally, mold, fungus and bacteria populations.

Sometime in the fall I gave up on waiting, and picked it up and threw it away, still looking just as "good" as the day it was dropped.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Chocolate Ganache Frosting

Hurrah! This is it - this is what I will be using to frost my cousin's wedding cake in June. I cobbled this together from several other recipes that didn't seem quite right, and at first I didn't think this one was quite right either. I thought it had the usual problem; too soft and goopy for wedding cake. However, there was a little left over from the first batch, and when I saw how it firmed up in the fridge I realized I had a winner. The taste is excellent (well, it would be with that list of ingredients, wouldn't it?) and the texture is good, and if the temperature is right it's very easy to work with. I was also pleased with my new cookie-cutter marzipan leaves, and the rosebuds continue to look fine. Now I just need to figure out how to make a few more elaborate flowers for the main cake, and I've got a plan. Unless I start fiddling with the cake again... I'm still wondering if it's a tad dry.

This is so good, by the way, that I am thinking of making it at Christmas, rolling it into little balls and dipping it in chocolate, and calling the result truffles. I very well may, although I may also throw in just a little more chocolate to the mix to make it firmer.

Enough to cover an 8" round layer cake
25 minutes prep time

Chocolate Ganache Frosting
4 ounces (110 grams) bittersweet chocolate
1 cup 35% (whipping) cream
a pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon almond, vanilla or other flavouring extract

Break up the chocolate, as much as you can, and put it in the top of a double boiler with the cream. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is mostly melted. This should not take long.

Remove the pot or bowl from the top of water bath, and let it cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cut up the butter into small pieces and add it, with the icing sugar and flavouring, to the chocolate and cream. Beat the mixture with an electric mixer on high, for 4 or 5 minutes.

Refrigerate for about half an hour, until spreadable; or cover and refrigerate until half an hour before wanted, at which time bring it up to room temperature before frosting the cake. It should be stirred well before spreading. It should keep for about a week in the fridge, well covered.

Last year at this time I made Baked Whitefish with Fennel.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Pea Shoots (Dau Miu) & Onion Greens

I'm very frustrated by the fact that I can't find proper Chinese style pea shoots (dau miu) that are locally grown. There is absolutely no reason why not. They are produced by letting snow pea plants grow to a few inches to a foot high, then you start snipping off the tenderest sprouting ends just as the leaves begin to form or open, long before peas or even blossoms form. The result is thicker and more tender than what I can find, which is basically newly sprouted peas that have been snipped as they get up to about 4 inches.

I got some local pea sprouts of that variety and used them for this; they were adequate but the leaves lacked substance and the stems were a bit stringy. Never mind; we've planted snow peas (kind of late as we had to dig the bed first) and hopefully in a couple weeks we'll have our own home-grown dau miu. And budding market gardeners out there, take note: dau miu is an early spring vegetable you should be producing! It's early, it's fairly easy, and it should command a decent price - at least you pay a good chunk of change to eat dau miu in Chinese restaurants; more than for most vegetables. Mind you, they won't store well, but I doubt they're any worse than spinach that way.

2 servings
15 minutes prep time

Pea Shoots and Onion Greens
4 cups pea shoots (dau miu)
1 cup chopped green oniony stuff (garlic shoots, chives, green onions, shallot shoots, etc)
1 teaspoon arrowroot or corn starch
1 tablspoon oyster sauce or soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon sunflower seed oil

Rinse the pea shoots and drain them well. Rinse and coarsely chop your green oniony stuff; I used a mix of green onions, chives and shallot greens. If the green onions have white parts, chop them a bit finer and keep them separate.

Mix the starch, oyster or soy sauce and water in a small bowl.

Heat the oil in a good sized skillet, when hot, add the green onions. If you have some white parts of the onions, start them a minute or two earlier than the rest. Otherwise, as soon as the oniony greens start to be soft, add the pea shoots. Stir up the mixture in the bowl and add it as well. Stir or mix the vegetables as they cook, until they are well wilted and the sauce has thickened. Remove them from the heat and serve at once. The whole cooking process won't take much more than 3 or 4 minutes.

You may find you need to add a little more water as the veggies cook, depending on how dry the pea shoots were when they went in.

Last year at this time I made Spaghetti with Eggy Herb Sauce and Lemon-Ginger Sweet Potatoes.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Monforte Dairy Town Hall

Monforte Dairy Renaissance Sign
On Sunday Mr. Ferdzy and I took a trip to Stratford to attend the Monforte Town Hall. As I've posted before, Ruth Klahsen is building a cheese factory - on the Community Shared Agriculture plan.

Monforte Dairy Renaissance - Town Hall
As people arrived at Stratford's city hall, they were greeted with cheddar cheese, crackers and relishes, as well as tea from Tea Leaves. Cheddar is all there is left of Monforte cheese at this time until the new factory is built, but there was a great range; plain, smoked, garlic scape, sundried tomato and chipotle.

Monforte Dairy Renaissance
There was a good turn-out, and a lot of cheese was consumed. It's amazing to think of all that went into that cheese. In her presentation, Ruth Klahsen gave some figures. It takes about 8 litres of milk to make a kilo of cheese. But it's not just milk. In general the cheesemaking process may take 10 litres of water to each litre of milk used, although in the new factory they will be looking for ways to keep it down to a one to one ratio. Ruth did remark that in restaurants, about 10 % of her time was spent scrubbing; in the dairy it's more like 80%. Cheese is a second career for Ruth; she was one of the original graduates of the Stratford Chefs School.

Another astonishing fact that Ruth mentioned in her talk is that most cheesemakers in Ontario don't make much, if any, money - may in fact lose money - selling cheese: their profits come from the sale of whey-powder, one of the by-products of modern cheese manufacturing. Ruth's plan involves the same formula used by restauranteurs to price their food; 30% to food costs, 30% to fixed costs, 30% to labour and 10% profit.

Monforte Dairy Renaissance
The auditorium in Stratford city hall is a fabulous Victorian theatre - obviously Stratford's interest in theatre predates the Stratford Festival.

Monforte Dairy Renaissance - Ruth Cutting Cheese
Although Cheddar is all that is left now, Ruth was making a wide range of cheeses before; soft to firm, smoked, plain and flavoured. Most of them were sheeps' milk cheeses, but there were some goats' milk cheeses as well. The plan for the new factory includes all these, and a lot more. Ruth was bubbling with plans and ideas: four different cows' milk cheeses, water buffalo milk for mozzerella and more, butter, and beyond milk products; charcuterie, preserves, crackers, maybe even beer someday!

Monforte Dairy Renaissance - An Assortment of Cheddars
Did you know Ontario used to have around 600 independant cheesemaking dairies? I was looking at a government page a week or two ago and the current figure is a lot closer to 20, although new artisanal cheesemakers seem to be showing up every month. Monforte hopes to help that number grow by running a cheesemaking apprenticeship; turning out 10 to 12 trained cheesemakers in a year. Ultimately, Ruth also sees the dairy employing about 20 people. She thinks this isn't a lot of employment, but actually I'm impressed. And that's not counting all the farmers that would be making a living selling milk to the dairy. That number will likely be about 30 farms - a very substantial number indeed. What's more, Ruth intends that the milk she buys for the dairy will be from animals not induced by hormones and lighting to give milk all year long, but on a natural cycle which ends in November and doesn't begin again until March, after young have been born and nursed for a month (which also doesn't happen in modern dairy farming.)

Monforte Dairy Renaissance
Ruth gave a lively and interesting description of the history of Monforte Dairy. It got off to a rocky start as a partnership between herself and an experienced cheesemaker. They didn't work out as a partnership, and he left her with the company name and tons (really!) of dodgy cheese that had to be thrown away. It was bankruptcy or learn about cheese from scratch and keep going. Ruth's a keep-goer, for which all Ontario cheese lovers can be truly grateful.

Monforte Dairy Renaissance Town Hall
After Ruth spoke, there were many questions from the gathered crowd, from requests for descriptions of the factory, the marketing system, the farms and farmers she works with; everything from philosophy to the nuts and bolts. I got a lot of the information for this post out of the question period.

Monforte Dairy Renaissance - The New Site
Here's the site of the new factory. Right now, it's a fairly non-descript modern industrial building of about 20,000 square feet. It'll stay that way, with the addition of a new 7,000 square foot non-descript modern industrial cheese-making building. Ultimately, the older building will be turned into an cheese aging facility. Why so non-descript and basic? Money, of course, but also because Monforte isn't about the building - it's all about the cheese.

And it's FABULOUS cheese. You can get a slice of it at Monforte Renaissance 2010.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

A Visit to Owen Sound Farmers Market

Owen Sound Farmers Market River
It was a thoroughly rainy Saturday, but we needed to go to Owen Sound anyway. And I'll never pass up a visit to a farmers market, no matter how bad the weather. By the time we got there, there was a sufficient break in the rain for us to stop and admire the river that flows past the Owen Sound Farmers Market, at 114 8th St. East; open all year on Saturdays.

Outside Owen Sound Farmers Market
We approached the market from the back, which gave us a good view of the outdoor concourse that houses many of the vendors.

Owen Sound Farmers Market Exterior Vendors
In spite of how early it still is in the season, it was well filled with shoppers and vendors. We had thought we were getting there fairly early, but it still took quite a while to find a parking spot. This is a very popular market.

Owen Sound Farmers Market Shrubs and Plants
There were some very interesting and somewhat unusual shrubs on offer.

Owen Sound Farmers Market Cut Tulips
Before we even got into the market I saw customers carrying away bunches of these beautiful cut tulips.

Owen Sound Farmers Market Organic Eggs
Organic eggs and meats, and tomato starts.

Owen Sound Farmers Market Local Rhubarb
We're just starting to see local produce; here are green onions, rhubarb and mint.

Owen Sound Farmers Market Back Door
Like many established year-round markets, the Owen Sound market has an indoor section as well as the outdoor section. Here, it's in a particularly handsome old brick building; not large but well-organized and well-filled.

Owen Sound Farmers Market Pastries
The first thing we spotted when we went in were these delicious-looking pastries.

Owen Sound Farmers Market Hall View
I was struck by the wood panelled ceiling, and the circuit designed to maximize table space and traffic flow.

Owen Sound Farmers Market Coffee and Prepared Food
The indoor tables were rather charmingly battered old wooden ones, with old-fashioned numbers on each one.

Owen Sound Farmers Market Howells Fish
Howell's Fish: I failed to take notes, but I believe I saw a sign announcing their 50th anniversary at the market. Wow! It all looked local, too, and beautifully fresh.

Owen Sound Farmers Market Local Label
Look for the Local Label - you bet!

Monday, 18 May 2009

A Butter Tasting

When Mr. Ferdzy and I travelled out to Gatineau in April, we looked around for local produce. However, there isn't much that comes from mid-northish Ontario. (We took the route through Algonquin park.) There are a number of small dairies operating in the Ottawa valley, so we decided that butter would be a readily accessible item for us to buy. We picked up Nature's Pride made by the Brum Dairy, and Stirling Creamery butter. The Stirling Creamery also made Hastings Whey Butter, which was salted, but we decided to try it. In general, we tried to avoid salted butter, but the Nature's Pride was salted as well. Those were the only two salted butters in the batch.

I had already been thinking of doing a "butter tasting" as I have been buying Golden Dawn butter lately, which I had noticed tasted different than the more mainstream butters (Lactantia, Gay Lea) that are generally available. Lactantia isn't actually an Ontario-made butter; it comes from Quebec. However, it seems to be available pretty much everywhere. Gay Lea is a dairy farmers co-operative, producing butter in south-western Ontario. It too is widely available.

Finally, we also tasted Golden Dawn butter from the Alliston Dairy, and Organic Meadow cultured butter. Most of these were pretty similar in price, except the Organic Meadow which was roughly twice the price of the others.

So, the set-up: I put a slice of each butter in a little dish and assigned it a number. I sort of knew which butter was which, although not completely thanks to a fairly faulty memory. The three other butter tasters had no idea which was which, or even that some where salted and some were unsalted. (Okay, Mr. Ferdzy knew that much.)

We sat ourselves down, each with a knife and a cracker or two. My original plan was to spread the butter on the crackers, but we quickly decided they interfered with the flavour of the butter too much, so we just ate little gobs of plain butter, and nibbled on the crackers in between to clear the decks for the next batch. Jeez, the things I do for you guys. Actually, since we are all butter lovers it wasn't too much of a hardship.

Okay, the results:

A. was Lactantia My Country Cultured Butter: Cream, lactic culture, may contain colour. Parmalat, Victoriaville, Quebec.

In spite of being the only butter that listed colour as a possibility, it was quite pale. One person thought it was fruity; but the three remaining people thought it was mild verging on bland. I thought it tasted rather like whipping cream. In general, people liked it but their approval was muted. Words like neutral, average to good were used.

B. was Nature's Pride Salted Butter: Cream, salt. Brum's Dairy, Pembroke, Ontario.

This, I'm sorry to say, was not a favourite of anyone. The salt was quite prominent, with a mild background flavour or cream. But overall, it was just too salty. This is why I generally don't buy salted butter.

C. was The Stirling Creamery Unsalted Butter: Cream. Stirling Creamery, Stirling, Ontario.

One person rated it highly, describing it as smooth and nutty in flavour. I thought it tasted more of milk than of cream. In general it was rated average to noticeably good, but again enthusiasm was muted.

D. was Organic Meadow Cultured Butter; Organic cream, bacterial culture. Organic Meadows Inc, Guelph, Ontario.

This one generated some controversy. Two of us liked it quite a lot, and two people didn't like it much, one of them in fact disliked it intensely. It was noticeably less sweet than any of the others, with a stronger, deeper flavour that I would have to describe as "cow". You know how goats milk tastes like goat? Well this tasted like cow. It had a surprisingly salty quality, perhaps because of the lack of sweetness. It had one of the strongest yellow colours to it of the butters we tried.

E. was Gay Lea Unsalted Butter; Cream. Gay-Lea Foods Co-operative, Mississauga, Ontario.

Fatty, but no flavour; said one person. Remarkably bland, was my verdict. Really neutral. Two of us rated this dead last, and the remaining two people didn't care for it much either. The good news is, it wasn't terrible... just a complete non-entity. This, by the way, was something of a surprise - it's what I used to usually buy. Hmm.

F. was Golden Dawn Unsalted Butter; Cream, water. Alliston Creamery & Dairy, Alliston, Ontario.

This one was another one that generated some disagreement. Two of us quite liked it, the other two didn't care for it that much. One person described it as watery, and indeed, it is the only butter that lists water as an ingredient. It melted quickly on the tongue; again, probably because of the water content. I found it had a slight cheese-like, almost sour aroma that dissipated into a fairly standard cream flavour, and I thought that gave it some good character.

G. was Hastings Whey Butter; Whey cream, salt. Stirling Creamery, Stirling, Ontario.

This was appreciated by everyone. In so far as there was a winner, this would be it. This is a little dismaying, since I threw it in as an oddball (it was the only whey butter) and also since I live on the wrong side of the province to get it! There are a few different brands of whey butter out there, but in general they are fairly hard to find. I'm not even sure what "whey cream" is, although the package says "The Old Fashioned flavour of whey cream separated by selected cheese factories and traditionally churned to produce the unique taste and fresh quality." Hmm. Whey is what is left of milk after separating out the cheese curds; I'm just surprised it would have enough butterfat left to make butter.

This was the other salted butter, and the flavour of salt was fairly prominent, but not unpleasantly so. The flavour was described as "round" and "most buttery". Two of us thought it had a mild cheesey flavour and a slightly sharp finish. Definitely, it had a real and pleasant flavour - not at all bland. This was the other butter with a strong yellow colour to it. A good butter to just spread on bread and eat.

Overall, we were all amazed at how different the butters actually were, even if we sometimes struggled to find the words to describe the differences. It's well worth while to try a different butter once in a while, to make sure you are using your actual favourite butter.

Last year at this time I made Chicken with Mushrooms & Shallots in Cream Sauce.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

A Mess of Pottage

29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. 32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? 33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis, King James Bible

If it dismays you to see Canada selling your birthright for a mess of pottage to the likes of Monsanto, please contact your M.P. to urge them to support Bill C-343.

M.P. Alex Atamanenko has reintroduced a Private Members Bill (C-343) to ban the release, sale, importation and use of Terminator technology.

Terminator technology refers to genetically modified seed which has been designed to produce sterile seed; farmers cannot keep seed from one season to the next, but must re-purchase it every year. Combined with Monsanto's concerted efforts (frighteningly effective, thus far) to control every aspect of food seed production in North America, if not the world, this is pretty chilling stuff.

You can find more information here, and here.

Thanks to Red Jenny for alerting me to this Bill.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Ramp Champ

I've never actually had ramps before, although of course I have heard about them for years. They are the sort of thing where you usually have to know someone who has them growing on their property. However, there were some at the Meaford 100 Mile Market this week.

I figured this would be a good way to try them out. Most people claim they are very strong in flavour, but I didn't find them to be that strong. Perhaps because they were cooked. There aren't that many members of the allium family that I'm inclined to eat raw, but cooking tames them. There were 24 ramps in this champ, and I think it could have taken more. We thought they were very good, and I hope to get my hands on some more in the future.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Ramp Champ
900 grams (2 pounds) potatoes
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
24 to 48 ramps
salt & pepper

Wash and trim the potatoes. Peel them if you like, but it isn't necessary. Just be sure to remove any bad spots. Cut the potatoes in quarters and put them in a pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil until tender.

In another pot, put the buttermilk and butter. Clean and trim the ramps, and chop them fairly finely. Put them in the pot with the buttermilk and butter. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes or so. Remove from the heat, and keep warm until the potatoes are ready. It's okay if it curdles.

When the potatoes are done, drain them very well. Return them to the pot and mash them with the ramps and buttermilk. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with melted butter, if you like.

Last year at this time I made Carrots & Asparagus with Sesame or Sunflower Seeds.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Apple Smoothie

Remarkably like apple pie, if apple pie was cold and liquid.

It's starting to get warm enough that I like to have a smoothie for breakfast or as a substantial part of lunch. Since I didn't freeze any fruit last year due to moving, I needed to make a smoothie that doesn't rely on them. I did use my own home-canned applesauce, and thinned it a little to make it more similar to store-bought.

4 servings
15 minutes prep time

Apple Smoothie
1 cup milk or soymilk
2 cups applesauce
2 cups crushed ice or small ice cubes
1 cup apple cider
1/4 cup apple butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put everything in a blender, and blend! Blend! Blend!

Serve over a little more ice, if you like.

Last year at this time I made Farfalle with Chicken & Asparagus in Saffron-Chive Broth.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread was originally very plain stuff, consisting of whole grain wheat flours raised and moistened with baking soda and buttermilk. More modern versions have enriched it with some butter and an egg, and raisins and/or caraway seed have become common additions, along with a little sugar. I tend to like the improved modern but plain version, as it makes a great foil to good butter or cheese. If I add anything more it tends to be a little caraway seed; a teaspoon is plenty.

Interestingly, Irish soda bread isn't that old, as a recipe. The use of soda as a a leavening actually came from the Americas, refined from the native use of ashes as leaveners for their corn breads. Once commercially produced baking soda became available, it meant that soda bread could be made at home, on a griddle or in a Dutch oven, since very few people would have had an actual oven. (There's nothing Dutch about Dutch ovens, by the way; that is one of the many ethnic slurs against the Dutch that came into the English language during the long period of intermittant wars between the two countries in the second half of the 17th century and still exist; no longer very recognizable as slurs - just slightly odd phrases.) There's an interesting history of Irish soda bread here. I hadn't heard the term bastible before, but what he's describing is what I have always known as a Dutch oven.

1 loaf - about 20 slices
1 hour - 10 minutes prep time

Irish Soda Bread with Red Fife Wheat
1 1/2 cups soft whole wheat (pastry) flour
1 1/2 cups whole Red Fife wheat flour
3 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a baking tray, or line it with parchment paper.

Mix the 2 flours in a mixing bowl with the baking powder and salt.

Measure the buttermilk in a 2 cup measure, then add the egg and melted butter, and give it all a good stir. Mix this into the dry ingredients, until they are amalgamated and the dough forms a rough ball. Do not overmix. Lift the dough out with your hands, and form it into an even ball centred on the prepared baking tray. Cut a cross in the top, about half an inch deep.

Bake the bread for 45 to 50 minutes, until firm and lightly browned.

It's best to let it cool for several hours before you slice it, but it doesn't keep as long as yeast raised breads. It should be eaten within 48 hours.

Last year at this time we visited Meeting Place Organic Farm.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Red Prince Apples

Red Prince Apples
I was in Thornbury the other day, which is the next town over, and popped into the Foodland grocery store there. There they had these Red Prince apples, prominently displayed. As it turns out, this is about the only place in Ontario that I could have found them at the moment.

This is a fairly new apple, having been discovered in 1994 in Holland. It's a cross between Golden Delicious and Red Jonathan apples, and it is grown by one local grower only. This is because, like most modern varieties, it is patented; a concept I have to admit I struggle with. But I'm not going to get too political here; I'm just going to assess the apple. Marius Botden is the local grower who is licensed to grow Red Prince.

It was fairly instructive to read this little article: Canada: New apple claims local throne. I was particularly struck by the comment from the store manager, "We're trying to replace imported apples."

Um, helllooooo??

We are absolutely surrounded by apple growers in all directions here. Okay, not to the north, which rapidly becomes a large body of water. But otherwise, it's apples, as far as the eye can see, pretty much. Any difficulties in sourcing local apples are going to be entirely self-inflicted.

But enough about all that. How does this apple taste? You might think it is completely unfair to assess an apple in mid-May, when they have been stored for 7 months, and could be expected to be pretty tired. However, one of the features of Red Prince is that it actually improves in storage. They don't even begin selling them until February.

We were quite impressed with this apple. The flesh is a creamy yellow, with great crunch. The flavour is a good balance of acidity and sweetness, with enough floral notes to be very tasty. I wouldn't say it's the best apple I've ever had, but for something that's been in storage for 7 months as noted, it's perfectly amazing. They say it's good for baking and cooking, but at this time of year other apples will be cheaper for that use. Save this one for eating raw, in salads and out of hand. Expect to see Red Prince showing up in a lot more places over the next few years, as an excellent late winter to late spring apple.

Red Prince Red Delicious Apple on Foodista

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with Goat Cheese & Asparagus (or Spinach)

Ooo, ow. I overdid it with all that digging last week, and now my neck is seized up, immobile and in pain. I'm taking some muscle relaxants for it (may make you drowsy, said doctor and pharmacist) and am consequently also only semi-conscious. However, they do seem to help and I'm hoping by the end of the week to be moving again. I'm also hoping this post is reasonably coherent.

Back on topic, we picked 5 (count em, 5!) spears of asparagus from the asparagus bed. We ate one plain and it was amazing. It was actually sweet, in a way I have never tasted in purchased asparagus before.

The remaining 4 spears got this fancy treatment. I thought 1 spear per cap would do, but when I looked at them next to each other, I realized that was too skimpy. Fortunately I had a couple handfuls of spinach left, so I made the 2 different fillings. Both very good.

2 to 4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Portobellow Mushrooms Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Asparagus (or Spinach)
4 large portobello mushroom caps
3 tablespoons butter, divided
8 to 12 spears of asparagus
OR 4 cups fresh baby spinach
1-2 green onions
1/2 teaspoon rubbed basil
salt & pepper
125 grams goat cheese curds
1/2 to 3/4 cup tomato sauce

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put 2 tablespoons of butter in an 8" x 10" casserole dish, and put it in the oven to melt.

Meanwhile, cut the stems from the mushrooms and set the mushrooms aside. Trim and dice the stems.

When the butter has melted, turn the tops of the mushroom caps in it until coated, then roast them, cap side up, for 10 minutes. If there are any caps that don't seem well coated in butter, you may wish to add place a pinch more butter to them as they go into the oven.
Clean and trim the asparagus, and dice it. (Or pick over and wash the spinach, and drain it well.) Mince the green onions.

Heat the remaining butter in a medium sized skillet, and when it is bubbling add the mushroom stems, the green onion and the asparagus or spinach. If you are using spinach, let the other ingredients get a head start for a minute or two before you add it. Sauté the vegetables until soft, and season with the basil, salt and pepper.

When the mushrooms have roasted for 10 minutes, remove them from the oven and turn them over, caps side down. Divide the sautéed vegetables between them, and top with the cheese curds and dollops of tomato sauce.

Return the mushrooms to the oven and roast for a further 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly. Serve hot, over toast or rice.

Last year at this time I made a Duck Egg Omelet.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Oh, Deer

The Fallow Deer at the Lonely House

One without looks in tonight
Through the curtain-chink
From the sheet of glistening white;
One without looks in tonight
As we sit and think
By the fender-brink.

We do not discern those eyes
Watching in the snow;
Lit by lamps of rosy dyes
We do not discern those eyes
Wandering, aglow
Four-footed, tiptoe.

Thomas Hardy

As a break from all of this weeks digging, we went for a long walk in the woods behind our house. It confirmed my observation that there was nothing but acres of trout lilies back there, practically none of them blooming. Nothing besides trees, I mean.

Well, I exaggerate. There is also some marshy grass in the low flat areas by the streams, and a lot of some member of the ranunculus family that isn't buttercups, but I don't know what it is. There is a smallish patch of maianthemum canadense, and a sprinkling of purple and yellow violets. I think there will be some cup-plants by the stream sides. No doubt there are other things, too.

However, I can say without exaggeration that this is the least diverse forest floor I have ever seen, and I have been a regular walker of woods since my years were in single digits. It's pretty clear that the reason is the deer. I hadn't considered it before, but we did a bit of driving around yesterday, and I observed that in comparison to other local woods, ours has practically no underbrush. There are numerous well-trampled paths through our woods, and I have to assume that the whole area is so over-grazed and trampled that many plants have died out. Even many plants too toxic to be browsed by the deer have succumbed to the endless trampling.

From our observations, the herd of deer which lives back there is no larger than 5 or 6 individuals, but their habitat is very constricted, between apple farms and suburban streets. I admit to having very mixed feelings about these deer. We will have to keep them out of our garden area, if we are to have a garden at all; but this may reduce their grazing area by as much as 10 %, and they are already clearly hard pressed for space. We saw one, in our walk, and as always it was a moment of excitement and pleasure. It's not a moment of excitement and pleasure though, when we go out and find another shrub half-shredded, and if (when) they get into our veggies, I'm sure the thought of learning to hunt will pass through my mind. (Won't do it, mainly because I'm pretty sure I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn door; besides if I did get one, then what?)

Eh well, nothing is perfect. We'll see how all this transpires. Expect posts on putting up electric fence over the summer, and a report on whether it actually keeps them out.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Pasta with Cheddar, Cream & Spring Vegetables

Oh look! Food! No surprise it's pasta; what else do I make when I'm feeling pressed? But I can't believe Presto Pasta Nights, at Family, Friends & Food this week, are going to be hearing from me again so soon. It's the first asparagus of the season, too. Not from my garden; we're only going to harvest about 6 spears of that so I will want to do something particularly fancy with it.

Not that this isn't pretty rich. I always like the combo of fresh green leafy flavours with cheese, and kept it pretty simple with just a touch of oregano and pepper to give them a little punch. I used 5% cream, in a somewhat vain effort to keep it down a bit with the fat, and it worked fine.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Pasta with Cheddar, Cream and Spring Vegetables
150 to 200 grams stubby pasta
12 large asparagus spears
2 to 3 cups finely chopped savoy cabbage
2 to 3 cups baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup finely minced chives
200 grams extra-old Cheddar, grated
a bit of Parmesan cheese, grated as well (optional)
1/2 to 2/3 cup light cream
salt & pepper
1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh oregano
OR 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

Wash, trim and chop the asparagus into inch-long pieces. Finely shred the cabbage, and rinse and drain the spinach. Mince the chives. Grate the cheese.

About 4 minutes before the pasta is done, add the asparagus and cabbage to the pot. When the pasta is done, add the spinach and stir it in well before draining. Drain the pasta and vegetables, and return it to the pot, over low heat. Stir in the chives and the cream. Heat through, stirring constantly, until the cream begins to simmer, then add the grated cheese and the oregano. Season to taste with salt, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Last year, round about now, I made Asparagus with Lemon-Pepper Butter with the first asparagus of the year, Pasta with Greens, Bacon & Cheese - hmmm, a theme develops - and Honey-Mustard Salad Dressing.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Asparagus Bed & Planting Potatoes

The Refurbished and Expanded Asparagus Bed
Still no cooking to speak of going on here... it's been dig, dig, dig all day long. Here's the first result of all that work. The original asparagus bed runs most of the length of the bed, but the newly finished planting area is three times as wide. The asparagus has been de-weeded, as best we can, and the rest was roto-tilled, then spaded and the weed roots picked out. Most of them, anyway.

You can see a mixture of old stalk ends and new shoots of asparagus coming up in the original bed. Over time though, this whole new area will be devoted to asparagus and strawberries. However, because we don't expect that we will get all the vegetable beds dug this year that we want, we are planting some vegetables here this year. More asparagus and strawberries will come later.

Mr. Ferdzy is leaning through a few of our rhubarb plants (I believe I had counted 15 of them, each and every one of which needs desperately to be divided into 4 to 6 new plants. Oh, and my mother-in-law wants to bring her favourite rhubarb plant to the garden as well. I'm actually giving serious consideration to going into rhubarb farming. Not kidding.) You can also see the deluxe shed known as Mousingham Palace in the background. Mr. Ferdzy is planting potatoes. Not shown: clouds of mosquitos and gnats.

Planting Potatoes
And a close up of the potato planting process. Since potatoes need to be hilled up as they grow, we actually start them in trenches, filling them in half way. Once the potatoes are well up, they will be filled in the rest of the way, then hilled up slightly as they continue to grow.

The black tubes you see in the ground are pieces of ABS plumbing pipe. They are set one at each of the corners of a standard sized bed (8' x 5') and the plan is that we will use them to anchor trellises, our large shade umbrella, and eventually large poultry cages or chicken tractors. We have dug about 8 of these standard beds in this area, as well as cleaning up the equivalent of 3 of them in the asparagus.

We're planting Linzer Delikatess, Warba, Alaska Sweetheart, Purple Viking, Russian Blue which I think is the same as All Blue, and Bintje potatoes, all of which we got from Eagle Creek Potatoes. We got 4 of those varieties in today; we hope to plant the rest tomorrow as well as getting some seeds in. The timing for getting the potatoes in was perfect - they should be planted when the dandelions first bloom, and they just started yesterday in large numbers.

Then we will start on the next set of beds. Ultimately, we want to dig 60 more beds, but the goal for this year is 21 more. Yes, we are crazy. Thanks for asking.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Picard Peanuts in St. Jacobs

We were in Kitchener-Waterloo for the last 4 days; we head down there at the beginning of every month as I am still doing a First-Day (Sunday) school class with Kitchener area Quakers. It's also a great chance to see our friends in the area. While we were there we stopped in at Picard Peanuts in St. Jacobs. It's at 3011 Sawmill Road, at Highway #85, at the roundabout.

Picards Peanuts - The Store
I had always wondered why Picard Peanuts was in Elmira, when Ontario peanuts are grown a fair bit further south, in what used to be tobacco country. However, this store is just one of 7 Picard Peanut stores in southern Ontario. The others are in Talbotville, Fonthill, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Windham Centre, Morriston, and Waterdown. (Note: There are now actually 8, with a new one in Woodstock - see the comments.)

Picard's grow their own peanuts on their farm in La Salette, north of Delhi. They also have Canada's first peanut processing plant, where they process over a million pounds of peanuts a year. In addition to shelling peanuts, they roast and season them, and make a large range of confectionary. Ice cream too.

Picards Peanuts
"Buggy Boyz"?? Who says the Mennonites aren't keeping up with modern culture? Anyway, let's go in.

Picards Peanuts
Not everything they carry is local. The confectionary products (ingredients) and other nut products such as almonds and cashews are from elsewhere, although Picards does manufacture most of the confectionary.

Picards Peanuts
But what they mostly have is peanuts! And more peanuts!

Picards Peanuts
And you will find a lot of Ontario goods, including popcorn.

Picards Peanuts
You can get ready-made peanut butter, but it does contain hydrogenated oil and sugar.

Picards Peanuts
Consequently, we opted to make our own. In the prepared peanuts go at the top...

Picards Peanuts
... and out comes peanut butter at the bottom. You do have to like it crunchy. This was purported to be smooth - definitely not. Fresh and peanutty, though.