Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bovine in the raw

In the news this week...

Ontario farmer Michael Schmidt is in court facing criminal charges for providing raw milk to his customers through a cow-share program. Sale of unpasteurized milk is illegal in Canada, as it can contain harmful bacteria. The trial is expected to last seven days. It is not Schmidt’s first time in court for defying Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act.

Does anyone else think this is silly? People who choose to drink raw milk do so because they feel the potential health benefits outweigh the risks. Isn’t that the case with any activity we do for our heath? Pharmaceuticals come with pages of warnings, yet people take them because the benefits to their health outweigh the risks. We are all urged to consult our doctor before beginning a new fitness program. Why? Because there are risks, but for most of us the potential gains make taking those risks worthwhile. I bet every Canadian knows someone who has lost teeth while playing hockey, yet we‘d all agree that hockey and other sports are healthy activities.

Some opponents feel that raw milk needs to be banned to protect children from their parents’ dietary choices. I find this argument particularly ridiculous. Yes, there are parents who make poor dietary choices for their children. You can find them in the grocery stores and fast food restaurants daily. Raw milk advocates certainly aren’t the only ones making potentially harmful food choices for their kids.

I really haven’t done enough research to know what to think about raw milk, but I still don’t understand all the time, energy and money being spent on this trial. Whatever the outcome, I admire Schmidt’s willingness to stick to his beliefs in spite of adversity. His tenacity has brought attention to how we think about food at a time when such consideration is truly needed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Now What?

There is something growing in my kitchen. No, not mould, although that seems like a reasonable answer here on the Wet Coast. I’m growing sprouts. I know. I’m surprised too. I’m not quite sure what prompted this. I’ve always been leery of the whole sprouting thing. People who grow sprouts seem so granola-y (you know - the woolly socks with Birkenstocks crowd), and the process (usually promoted by people trying to sell you grow-your-own paraphernalia) seemed too easy to be true. Add to that lingering memories of news stories outlining the dangers of eating sprouts and the whole venture seemed too weird for me.

And yet I have sprouts growing in my kitchen - on purpose. I actually went out and bought sprouting seeds and a sprouting jar lid. I guess there’s part of me that wants to grow my own food. Even when I was a kid that desire was there. I remember hoarding green bean seeds under the edge of my dinner plate as a child. My plan was to plant them and have a garden. Mom kindly pointed out that cooked seeds wouldn’t grow, and set me up with seeds that would work. I was fascinated by the process…seed to sprout to plant to seed. I still find it fascinating. I’ve found myself in the kitchen several times this week, my nose pressed up against the sprouting jar, excitedly reporting the seeds’ progress to hubbie.

And my seeds have progressed quite well. I now have sprouts that are ready to eat. I’ve tried a few with no ill effects, although according to Health Canada’s website it may be too early to tell. The process was as easy as I had been lead to believe by Meghan’s video over at Making Love in the Kitchen, although there were a few things I researched myself for my own peace of mind. I’m rather satisfied with my little local food experiment, but there is one small problem. Now that I have the little suckers, what the heck do I do with them? Yes, I know, you eat them. A friend has already forwarded a recipe for sprouted bean hummus, and I know I can add them to soups and salads, but if anyone else has suggestions for sprouted lentil, pea and garbanzo mix I’d love to hear them. I wouldn’t want to let my little babies go to waste.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Frightful Frittata

We’ve been eating a lot of beets this winter. Well, maybe not a lot, but more than normal, as local beets are readily available. Baking is our preferred method of preparation. We trim the twiggy bits at the top, whack off the rat-tail root, wash, wrap in foil and bake until tender. Once they’re baked they’re much easier to peel, although we still end up looking like we’ve had a bloody massacre in the kitchen when we’re done.

A few weeks ago I was looking for a quick lunch. I
nspired by an article about frittatas over at “The Goods Are Odd” I went poking around my fridge. There were no greens to work with, but I did have eggs, cheese, green onions and some leftover baked beets. Hmmmm. I had made beet and feta tart before, so I figured the combo would work as a frittata.

Usually when I make a tart I put cooked veggies on a crust then pour my egg and cheese mixture on top. Sometimes the veggies will colour the eggs slightly where they touch. Knowing this didn’t prepare me for what I was going to get when I assembled my frittata. I combined beaten eggs with grated cheese then dumped in my sliced beets and chopped onion. I stirred everything together and got this:

The photo doesn’t do it justice. It looked even worse in person. It wasn’t quite Barbie pink, and it wasn’t quite Pepto pink. It was weirdly yellow from the egg yolks. I had to laugh, and cook it anyway. There just wasn’t time to consider anything else.

It came out of the broiler looking much improved, if still a bit bright. I probably could have let it brown a bit more, but was afraid of burning it. I tend to have trouble finding that moment between not quite done and charred. Hubbie can attest to that. There has been more than one occasion where I’ve set off the smoke detector with the broiler.

In spite of its rather unusual appearance, it was good, and it allowed me to use leftovers that might otherwise have gone to waste. That pleases me. I like that kind of economy, particularly when it is unplanned. It feels good when everything comes together like that. All in all, I’d recommend beet frittata, if only for the laugh.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Of carrots and cars, cabbages and community

Stick with me on this one. It’s a little convoluted, but I’ll get there eventually.

“Buy the cars your neighbours help to build”

You saw this slogan a lot in Windsor and Detroit around 1980. The auto industry was in trouble (sound familiar?), and you drove foreign at your peril, particularly if you worked at one of the plants. And our neighbours did work in the plants. Ford, GM and Chrysler were all represented on our street, and many of those who weren't employed by the Big 3 worked at one of the many factories that supported them. When things got bad for the auto industry everyone felt it.

And in the eighties things got quite bad. Ghost towns of unsold cars, trucks and vans started appearing. Parking lots that were generally empty were suddenly full, but not with the cars of new customers. An abandoned drag racing track outside of town was pressed into storage service. Row after row of shiny new cars sat on the weedy track between farmers’ fields. It began to look like they’d be there until they rusted away. We had visible evidence of what happens when consumer choices don’t support local industries.

The backlog of unsold vehicles seemed to grow unchecked, and just when it seemed like they’d run out of space to hold them, production stopped. The plants closed. Our friends were laid off. My dad was laid off. No one new when or if they would be called back to work.

“Buy the cars your neighbours help to build.”

I’m sure that ad campaign was only a small part of the solution. Eventually cars began to sell again. The automotive ghost towns faded away. People went back to work. It was back to business as usual. For the longest time you didn’t see many of foreign cars on the road in Windsor. I’m sure there were lots of reasons for that too, but my first car was a Chrysler, as was my second. I learned to drive in a Dodge Omni. That slogan was in my mind when we bought our first non-North American car two years ago. I still have trouble admitting that I drive a foreign car when we visit friends and family in Windsor. Not that there are many of them working in the auto industry any more. Now there’s something to feel guilty about as I toodle around town in my Toyota!

In spite of appearances, this post isn’t about my guilt, or even about cars. It’s about advertising, and it’s about community. I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In it she talks about the billions spent in advertising to sell fast and processed foods. She also points out the difficulties of selling to consumers whose “highest food-shopping priority is the lowest price” in this environment. She tells us that the advantages of responsibly grown local food can’t “fit in a five-syllable jingle”. True, but as we realize once again the value of spending our dollars in a way that supports our economy, and in a manner that keeps ourselves and our friends and family employed, why don’t we borrow the slogan that once worked for the auto-industry? I think “Buy the food your neighbours helped to grow” has a wonderful ring to it. More than five syllables, but I think that even those of us with limited attention spans can handle it.

There are so many advantages to buying local foods. Locally grown produce generally tastes better, as it was likely picked when ripe rather than picked when best for shipping. Odds are the food will also be better for you. Antioxidants and phytonutrients tend to be a their peak in properly ripened foods. I don’t think ripening in a truck on a cross-country journey counts as being “properly ripened”. And less travel equals less fuel used. Do I really need to point out the advantages of using less fuel?

I know, you’re likely tired of being bombarded by messages telling you how to improve your health and save the environment. I get that way too. There are times when I feel so overwhelmed that it’s hard to make the right choice. There are times when I drive when I should walk. There are times when I want the damn oranges no matter how far they have travelled. Sometimes it’s just too much. I can’t fix things by myself, and the impact of my choices isn’t apparent enough to make it seem worth the effort. So I buy the oranges, and I take the car to the corner store to buy highly processed snacks that have been shipped from who knows where. It’s easy to feel lost in the big picture. So think small. Think about how your decisions will impact your friends, you family, your neighbours, your community. Sometimes I think if you do that the big picture will take care of itself.

And yes, I realize there are people who live in urban areas where it’s hard to think of a farm as being part of the community. I’ve had the mixed blessing of living close to farms all my life - wonderful when I can get fresh strawberries - not so wonderful when the wind shifts while they’re fertilizing. And I know there are seasons where there’s just not much local food available. So expand your idea of local. If you can’t find something from your community, how about from your county, your province, your country. There are benefits of each, and you’ll keep your dollars close to home where they're more likely to come back to you in one form or another. Given the country’s current economic situation that sounds good to me.

Buy the foods your neighbours help to grow.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Saucy New Year!

Happy New Year!

This holiday season challenged my intentions. Snowy sidewalks and crowds at the stores made one-stop shopping a priority. Shopping around for local goods pretty much stopped. Treats at work, dinners with friends and other celebrations made worrying about food origins and ingredient lists pointless. Holiday traditions also played a role in food choices. Our Christmas Day trifle contained local berries and whipped cream from a BC dairy, but time and sanity led us to choose Bird’s custard and store bought ladyfingers rather than homemade versions. And you know what? I’m OK with that. Holidays are stressful enough without obsessing over the details, so I gave myself permission early in the season to relax and enjoy. So I did.

After several weeks of indulgence, I’m feeling ready to get back on track. This morning I was poking around the fridge, looking at what was left from the holidays, and considering a New Year clean-out. This was prompted by the discovery of an almost empty jar of jam of unknown age. It’s funny how something can be in front of you, as in every time you open the fridge, and you just stop seeing it after a while. Closer inspection of my fridge revealed several jars and bottles that I had forgotten about. Most of these contained sauces of some variety. A friend from England once commented that North Americans need such large refrigerators to accommodate all the sauces they use in their cooking. After looking in my own fridge I see her point.

I have to ask why we need so many prepared items to flavour our food. Historically foods were seasoned for a variety of reasons. Salt was used to cure and tenderize foods. Some herbs and spices are known to have medicinal and antimicrobial qualities. Even if early cooks weren’t aware of these properties, it’s no coincidence that the spiciest foods tend to come from hottest countries. Of course herbs and spices were used to add flavour. In some cases they may have been used to disguise the taste of less than fresh foods. Of these early reasons, only flavour seems to explain the numerous bottles in my fridge. But why do I need so many ways to season my food? Could it be that my basic ingredients are lacking flavour of their own? Has my broccoli travelled so far that it no longer tastes of broccoli? Or is it because it was selected for features other than taste? Whatever the reason, I can’t avoid the fact that I really need to clean out my fridge.