Thursday, April 30, 2009

Another Beautiful Day in the Vineyard

A brief post today. I spent the day helping at Sleeping Cougar Acres. It was a beautiful day, but I'm tired now! I'm going to be sore tomorrow. If I keep this up I certainly won't need to go to the gym. Not that I ever went to the gym before. No wonder my muscles are so sore after a day of picking rocks, hauling timbers and shoveling sh*t.

A beautiful day in the vineyard.

L, queen of the vineyard.

Me, princess of poop.

New growth!

Pie in its earliest stages.

A food mill. Nothing to do with farming, but I had never seen one before and Julia Child highly recommends them. Particularly for potage parmentier.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Will Work for Vegetables

I was farming yesterday. Yep. That’s right. Farming. I even learned how to drive a tractor. Well a lawn tractor, but considering we use a reel mower on our lawn at home I thought it was a pretty big deal.

My friend L and her husband K converted part of their acreage to vineyards in 2007. They are now getting ready to add small crops of vegetables. Yesterday I was at their farm, Sleeping Cougar Acres, to help out. (The cougar isn't really sleeping, but that's another story.) In exchange for occasional work on the farm, L is going to share some of the vegetables with me. I'm quite excited that I'm going to get to know exactly what goes into growing the food I eat.

I was nervous when I got up yesterday morning. It's been years since I helped on a farm, and the last time it was a horse farm. Somehow I didn't think it would be quite the same. (Once I got there I discovered that both farms require shoveling steaming horse poop. Fortunately, that doesn't deter me in the least.)

As it got closer to time to go I started to wonder if I’d be a help or a hindrance. I didn’t want it to become a situation where it would take L less time to do something herself than to explain it to me. I shouldn’t have worried. L and I always get along well when we work together, and we usually have a good time while we’re at it. Our work together yesterday continued in that tradition.

Our original plan for the day was to move, reassemble and fill some raised beds. We had even hoped to start transplanting the plants from the greenhouse.

We got as far as moving the frames for the raised beds when L decided our time would be better spent helping K. They had rented a mini excavator for the day, and K was using it to scrape up patchy sod and weeds in the vineyard in preparation for planting more a more suitable type of grass.

L realized that K would make more progress if he concentrated on scraping while we hauled away the weeds and other debris. L fired up her tractor, Leon, and showed me how to use the lawn tractor. We spent the rest of the afternoon hauling debris from one end of the farm to the other. I never did figure out how make the lawn tractor/trailer combo back up where I wanted it to go, but I had a blast.

Today, I was up at 5am. Do you think farm life is contagious? I don’t think I mind if it is. My introduction to farm work went so well that I’m looking forward to going back, but I think I'll wait a few days to see if my muscles stop aching first.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Green, Clean and Smooth

The 3-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse is over, and I‘m in my second day of transitioning from it. I’m still not sure what prompted me to take part. Timing I guess. Work has been stressful, and the cleanse came along at the peak of this stress, so I jumped in.

And it was a jump for me. Cleansing is something I had never considered before. In fact, I thought people who took part in cleansing programs were a bit odd and granola-y. I guess I’m one of them now. Sign me up for my socks and Birkenstocks.

I’m glad I did it though. It gave me something positive to think about when worries threatened to overwhelm me, and I feel a sense of accomplishment for having completed it. Would I recommend it? I’m not sure. When I heard about Meghan’s program I knew I had to be a part. It just resonated with me in a way I can’t really explain. If it resonates with you, go for it. If not, I hope you find something that ‘speaks’ to you in the same way. It’s a wonderful feeling.

I’m going to list my observations from the experience below for those of you who might be interested in this or a similar program. I hope that something here helps should you choose to take on the challenge. Of course, I found my biggest help was the wonderful support I got from my husband, from my friends and from Meghan and the rest of the 3-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse participants over at Making Love in the Kitchen.

- When I started telling people what I was doing, I found a surprising number had tried a least one cleansing program.

- Many people I know drink green smoothies on a regular basis. This was news to me.

- There were people who thought I was nuts, but there were more who were curious about the program.

- I was able to sit with others who were eating without wanting to mug them for their food.

- I didn’t have as many cravings as I expected.

- My biggest cravings came at dinner time. That’s when I wanted something savoury.

- It is not wise to try to make a savoury green smoothie and pretend it is soup.

- Avocado in a smoothie makes for a very unusual texture. I found those ones very hard to get down.

- Most smoothies that taste odd on the first sip improve by the second or third sip. Keep sipping.

- I should have predicted that green smoothies come out much like they go in.

- A surprising number of people asked me if my pee was green yet.

- My teeth feel cleaner.

- I did not lose any weight, but my husband says I look slimmer and somehow I feel lighter.

- I feel calmer and lighter in spirit. I had moments of wonderful, peaceful happiness while cleansing.

- I cried much more easily during the cleanse.

- My regularly runny nose and scratchy throat almost went away. This is in spite of the heavy pollen we are experiencing right now. My car has been covered in fine yellow dust most days.

- I have plantar fasciitis. My foot has not hurt nearly as much this week.

- Regarding the above two points: I don’t want to think about what this might mean I should eliminate from my diet. Can we say denial?

- My skin feels much smoother.

- Some points on coconut oil:
  • - I’ve been putting it on my skin after my shower.
  • - Coconut oil smells heavenly. It made my skin smell like a macaroon.
  • - Delicious smelling skin can be a problem when you can’t have macaroons.
  • - Coconut oil is a solid at our current room temperature.
  • - Small chunks of unblended coconut oil float like anaemic boogers in a sea of green smoothie.

- My first solid food after three days of cleansing was applesauce with sunflower seed butter. Divine.

- After three days of smoothies, solid food made my mouth very happy. My stomach wasn’t as impressed.

- Good advice from a friend: Chew, chew, chew your food when transitioning from the cleanse. Be slow. Take your time.

- Though I wasn’t particularly hungry on the cleanse, once my stomach got used to solid food it became rather demanding on a regular basis.

- I was able to incorporate a wonderful amount of local food into my smoothies. Kale, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, strawberries, blueberries, chard, collards, etc.

- Some of the ingredients travelled tremendous distances. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that. Something to think about and work on should I choose to do this again.

- I'm fairly certain I'll be doing this again.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Day One Down

Yesterday marked the first official day of the 3-day Green Smoothie Cleanse. I say “official” because there were a few days of transition leading up to it. Considering how my transition days went, I’m beginning to think that I don’t handle change well. Those of you who know me can get up off the floor now. It wasn’t that funny.

The cleanse is going well so far, I think. Having never done this before I’m not sure what to expect. I’m a bit tired and spacey, but I have days like that anyway. My head hurts a bit, and I had trouble getting to sleep last night. Again, I’ve been feeling stressed about work, so it’s hard to tell if it’s the cleanse or the job causing those symptoms.
On the plus side, I’m not particularly hungry, and I’ve had no real cravings so far. I even went to a pot luck last night and wasn’t even tempted by the food. That is quite odd for me. I’m usually a mindless grazer when it comes to pot lucks.

The first day of the cleanse was made much easier by hubby’s joining me. When I announced my intention to take on this challenge I had no idea he’d be interested. He immediately decided to support my crazy endeavour by doing the transition days and the first day with me. I am honoured by his thoughtfulness. I was so moved and grateful that there were tears yesterday morning. Mine, not his. (Did I mention I've been a bit emotional so far during the cleanse?)

Mind you, it hasn't all been wild emotions. There was a moment yesterday morning when we realized that there are some silly side effects to green smoothies. We recorded it to share with you here. Note that hubby is the one with the whiskers.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Green Smoothies, Greener Planet

I came home from yesterday's Farmer's Market with a bag full of green goodies and an Earth Machine composter.

I was inspired to buy this inedible item while making my smoothie yesterday morning. As I chucked strawberry hulls into the trash on top of cauliflower leaves from the night before, I realized that I was sending a lot of good stuff to the landfill. When I saw the composters for sale right next to the market yesterday morning I felt like it was meant to be. I already have a half a bucket of scraps to feed to my new friend. Better get it assembled!

If I hadn't signed up for the 3-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse I likely wouldn't have considered composting again. Vegetable scraps tend to get hidden in with the rest of the trash, but when all we're eating is fruits and vegetables it becomes obvious how much waste we're sending to the landfill that doesn't need to be there. Who would have thought that cleansing would be good for me and for the planet?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Masters of the Art of French Cooking

Do you hear that? The voices, the laughter, the corks popping, the arteries hardening? It can only mean one thing.

You’re hearing the echoes of my book club’s discussion of Julie Powell’s "Julie and Julia".

OK, there wasn’t much book discussion. We’re rather lax in that department, but there was lots of sharing and savouring. When we did talk about the book, we came to the consensus that Julie Powell is nuts. We all struggled to prepare our selected recipes from Julia Child’s "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". Considering the trouble I had when I attempted a trial run a few weeks ago, I took childish pleasure in that. Few of us could imagine doing a second recipe, let alone trying to cook every recipe in the book.

In spite of our lack of enthusiasm for our own MtAoFC creations, we all enjoyed the dishes prepared by other club members. That could be because many of us were too frustrated to enjoy the results of our labour-intensive recipes. We all agreed that, left to our own devices, we could have created similar dishes with less effort, and they would have tasted better.

Like I said, though I wasn’t impressed with my Riz Duxelles, I was impressed with the rest of the food. When I’m not completely intimidated by their cooking abilities, I do so love being the same book club as these women. More pictures from the evening are below. Try not to lick your monitor.

After reviewing the pictures, I can see it's a good thing I signed up for Meghan's 3-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse over at Making Love in the Kitchen. In fact, I'm feeling pretty good about my decision to join, but that could be because I'm still full of French food. Check back in a few days to see if I'm still feeling so positive!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

3 Day Green Smoothie Cleanse

In looking again at yesterday's photo of my Farmers' Market goodies, I've noticed that there are only two colours represented. Brown and green.

We've already made dents in foods of each colour. The croissants were breakfast yesterday morning, and the paska started our day today. Two of the potatoes became garlic mashed potatoes at dinner last night. I know you can't tell from the picture, but those potatoes are huge. Two potatoes made enough mash for dinner with leftovers for lunch today. The salad greens, arugula and pea shoots joined some previously purchased spinach to make an enormous green salad. I won't have to make salad again for a few days, and there are still lots of greens left in the fridge. That's a good thing. I've embarked on a project where I'm really going to need them.

I've signed up for the 3-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse over at Meghan Telpner's Making Love in the Kitchen. Meghan is a Certified Nutritionist and Holistic Lifestyle Consultant. I wish I had such a cool title. I've been following her blog for a while now. I even won some of her wonderful granola for being able to identify the ingredient list from a box of Pop Tarts. I've never eaten a Pop Tart, but being able to identify the ingredients probably means I'm in need of this cleanse.

The cleanse is going to be a bit of an adventure for me, as I've never tried such a thing before. It's a bit crazy and out of character, but the timing seems right, so I've decided to take the plunge. I bought extra greens at the market yesterday so I can gradually add them to my smoothies this week in preparation for the big start next Sunday. (Local greens in my smoothie make me smile.) I hope you will click on the link in the sidebar and check it out, and I hope some of you will join me on this adventure. It would be nice to have someone to commiserate/celebrate with.

PS. Having tasted the arugula, I doubt that I'll use it in my smoothies. It packs more punch that I expected. On second thought, as I'm guessing this cleanse won't include caffeine, I may need that extra kick in my morning smoothie!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Home again, home again jiggety-jog

Above is my Farmers' Market haul from this morning. Clockwise from top left we have arugula, mixed salad greens, croissants, potatoes, bison smokies, paska, and in the centre there are pea shoots and a package of pea seeds. The fact that I haven't yet killed my kale plants has emboldened me to try growing peas. Yes, I know, it's only been two days, but I can dream!

The paska and the croissants were complete impulse purchases. It was the paska that drew me in. My Ukrainian genes beat the heck out of my good intentions, and once I was at the vendor's table the croissants had to follow me home too. I don't even have French genes to blame that on. I really must remember to have breakfast before trundling off to the Farmers' Market

Friday, April 10, 2009

To Market, To Market!

My workplace is going through a “strategic realignment” - management’s wording, not mine. This initiative has lead to many changes, some exciting, some frustrating, some overwhelming. Some are even funny if you have a twisted sense of humour. I tend to have a twisted sense of humour. One of the best things to come out of these changes is my new schedule. I now have Saturdays off for the first time in 2 years. This means I can attend the Saturday Farmers’ Market on a regular basis. *Insert happy dance here*

March 28 marked my first venture to the Saturday Market in about a year. I was so excited that I was rather giddy. I’m sure the vendors thought I was more than a little mad. I should probably save the happy dance for less public venues.

A quick spin around the market dampened my spirits a wee bit. I had imagined that I would be buying produce. Somehow I had neglected that fact that it was still March, and the produce pickings were pretty slim. Part of that might be due to my late arrival. The good stuff usually goes first at the Farmers’ Market, and I had slept in. I did mention it was my first Saturday off in a very long time, didn’t I?

Though there wasn’t much to choose from in the way of produce, there was still plenty available to purchase: beef, chicken, lamb, chevon (aka goat meat), bison, tuna, salmon, two kinds of eggs (duck and chicken) a variety of jams, jellies and condiments, a seemingly infinite variety of baked goods, honey and locally made cosmetics.

I had money burning a hole in my pocket, so I treated myself to some facial clay and some bison wieners. (That’s hotdogs you lewd thing. I know what you were thinking.) Not what I was planning when I started, but that’s half the fun of shopping at the Farmers’ Market. I never know what I’m going to leave with, but I never go home empty-handed.

Dinner that night was barbequed bison wieners followed by a wicked facial mask. There were enough hotdogs for two meals, which prompted me to get over my fear of preparing dry beans. I made homemade baked beans for the first time, as I wanted to use the leftover bison for wieners and beans. It seemed a shame to use canned baked beans with the bison wieners. I love how unplanned purchases can lead to new experiences. As a bonus, we also got 3 meals out of the beans (wieners and beans, plus baked beans on sourdough toast x 2) and there‘s two 500ml jars of baked beans in the freezer. I feel another happy dance coming on.

Tomorrow brings the first outdoor Farmers’ Market of the season. Once it moves outside, the market usually attracts more vendors. The local produce has also had that much more growing time. I’m looking forward to the increased selection. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for good weather, but I will be there rain or shine. I can’t wait to see what cooking adventures this week’s market will inspire.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Up and Down and All Around

A day of difficult discussions and hard decisions interspersed with amazing support from hubby and friends.

Lunch with C (Potage Parmentier again), a visit to the garden of the lovely L, and a salute from the Snowbirds brought balance to a day that might otherwise have spun out of control.

I've included pictures from my garden visit. I left L's in a much calmer frame of mind than when I arrived. I also left with kale and parsley plants for my own garden. She should really charge for such services.

L has crops in her garden year-round. The kale was planted last fall, and they've been eating it all winter. That's the kind of local eating I aspire too, though I have to work on greening my thumb first.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Child-ish Cooking Project

It was Thursday morning, slightly before 11am. I was in my kitchen. I hadn't yet showered, or brushed my teeth, or combed my hair. There was a bottle of vermouth in my hand. It sounds like I was heading for a nervous breakdown, but in reality I was battling with a recipe from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.

I would have never considered such a thing on my own, but my book club will be discussing Julie Powell’s “Julie and Julia” this month. They’ve decided to combine this discussion with a pot luck. I say "they’ve" decided because I was away when this decision was made. Had I been there I’m not sure I would have agreed. I like cooking, but cooking for potlucks stresses me out. Particularly when the other participants, like those in my book club, are such amazing cooks. And even more particularly when the cooking involves Julia Child.

Julia Child scares me. Not her cooking, the woman herself. I’m not sure why. I can’t say that I know much about her, but I do remember seeing this big, loud, boisterous woman on television as a child and being terrified of her. OK, maybe not terrified, but definitely overwhelmed. As a result, I’ve avoided all things Child-esque. Until now.

Given my feelings about Julia Child, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed “Julie and Julia”. Inspired by Powell, I borrowed “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” from the library. My idea was to find a recipe for the upcoming potluck. I don’t know if this was what the potluck's planners had in mind, as I said, I missed that meeting, but I figured that if Powell could cook every recipe in the cookbook, I could try one recipe for the book club.

Like Powell, I started with Potage Parmentier. It turned out remarkably well. A promising start considering my Julia-aversion, but not a recipe I wanted to use for the potluck. I was hoping for something more portable. My mom once had a potato-soup coat. As a child I thought it was a coat that you wore when you ate potato soup, much like you would wear an evening gown for an evening event. It turns out that the coat was known as the potato-soup coat because my aunt spilled potato soup on it. I really didn’t want my Toyota to be known as the Potage-Parmentier car.

Further investigation of the cookbook provided few alternatives. The dietary restrictions of the group, another reason I find cooking for potlucks so stressful, immediately eliminated any recipe with meat. Ditto for recipes with cheese and dairy. And almonds. Eventually I wound up in the vegetable chapter, where I found Champignons Farcis. Bingo. The instructions were fairly straight-forward, and the ingredients were fairly ordinary for a cookbook with recipes that require sweetbreads and brains and calf's feet. Oh my. Still, hubby suggested a trial run for our sanity, and because he likes stuffed mushrooms.

I’m glad he did. Even though this recipe is one of the least complicated ones in the book, it is not written in a way that I find intuitive. None of Child’s recipes are. I was determined to follow the directions exactly even though at one point you’re asked to “saute as in the preceding duxelles recipe"…okaaay…except I found the instructions for sauteing duxelles to be fairly vague. Still, I read the recipes several times, bought my ingredients and figured I had everything under control. Then I started cooking.

It wasn’t until I was partway into the recipe that I realized that I didn’t actually have all the ingredients. I had purposely omitted the Swiss cheese, as hubby isn’t fond of Swiss cheese, but I had also forgotten to pick up whipping cream. As I stood in the kitchen trying to determine whether yogurt or skim milk would be the better substitute, I remembered that dairy was on the no-go list for the book club. In trying to find an brain-free, hoof-free, nut-free recipe for the group I had completely forgotten that. Damn. I went with yogurt, substituted cheddar for the Swiss cheese, and noticed that the veggies sautéing in my frying pan weren’t looking at all like I imagined duxelles should. At that point I decided to add the optional Madeira, though I didn’t have any Madeira in the house. I was pretty sure Child had mentioned vermouth as a substitute for wine. I just wasn’t sure what type of wine you could substitute vermouth for, and I didn’t have the time or the patience to check. In went the vermouth.

I still wasn’t sure about the duxelles-like quality of the veggies, but at this point I had already strayed so far from the recipe that I was sure it didn’t matter. Mushroom stuffing commenced.

I had intended to prep the mushrooms up to the point where they went in the oven, then set them aside to bake later. I wanted to see ho
w they held up to sitting in the fridge prior to baking, as this is what I planned to do for the potluck. So much for intentions. Although my kitchen looked like a disaster area, the mushrooms looked and smelled so good that I baked them right away. What was supposed to be our dinner became our lunch. And they were good. Too bad they won't work for the potluck after all. Riz Duxelles looks pretty safe, and I'd only need to refer to three recipes to make it. I see another morning of experimenting in my kitchen. At least I have some duxelles experience under my belt. Bring on the vermouth!