Friday, December 26, 2008

A Christmas Carol and Cthulhu Droppings

Happy Boxing Day. I hope you all had a wonderful, relaxing Christmas yesterday. I know I did. I did try to do a Christmas Day post, but the Blogger monsters ate all but the first two sentences. After that I gave up and went back to relaxing.

A few years ago I decided that I didn’t want to spend my Christmas Day in the kitchen preparing a large meal. As much as I like cooking, I get too stressed trying to create a “traditional” Christmas dinner, so we decided to start our own tradition. We get really good steaks and we barbeque. Less fuss, minimal clean up and more time to enjoy the day. (e.g. playing with new toys, napping, walking, napping…)

Because I didn’t have to prep a big dinner, I was able to spend part of Christmas Day re-reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There’s a man who can write about food. Reading this book always makes me hungry, and I find myself making repeated trips to the kitchen for snacks. From time to time I’ll even try to replicate some of the Victorian-era foods he mentions. My book club was most appreciative the year I contributed Negus to our holiday feast.

Yesterday’s reading inspired me to make onion marmalade to go with our steaks. At least, I assume it was my reading. I certainly didn’t have onion marmalade on the menu for Christmas dinner prior to reading about the fruiterer’s, where “ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars; and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe.”

I used Warren Ellis’ instructions for the marmalade. His descriptions of food are as memorable as Dickens', but in a completely different way. He’s rather obscene, and his humour is much more in your face. A rather refreshing change from the likes of Tiny Tim actually. I will admit that I felt a little bad about slicing the skull off my little Spanish Friar, what with it being Christmas and all, but the results were worth it. And I was able to have something onion-y to write about for my first Christmas post. I kinda like the way that worked out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Oranges Poranges. Who cares?

I’m sitting here at my computer, hot coffee at hand, waiting for my fingers and my brain to thaw enough to write properly. I’ve just come in from shovelling snow. While it is beautiful out there, I’m not impressed. Snow is rare here, which is part of the attraction of island life. It does rain a lot, but you don’t have to shovel rain. Still, I shouldn’t feel too sorry for myself. Vegas got 3.6 inches of snow overnight. I imagine they are less prepared for it than we are. I’m sure I’ll feel much more philosophical about the weather once the coffee has kicked in. Which brings me to the point of today’s post.

I can’t imagine trying to go without coffee. I usually have one cup a day, but it’s an addictive cup. Coffee-free days lead to headaches and crankiness and other unpleasantness, so I try to avoid those days. I even keep a jar of instant on hand in case of “emergency”. You know, like if the power goes out and my coffee maker won’t work and I have to resort to boiling water on the barbeque to make instant coffee. Those kinds of emergencies.

Given this dependence, I was truly astounded by the accomplishment of Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, authors of “The 100 Mile Diet”. I recently read their book. In it they describe how they drew a 100-mile-radius circle around their Vancouver home and ate only foods from within that circle for a full year. This means no coffee or caffeine of any kind. Yikes.

I am impressed by their, good grief, I don’t even know what word to use here. Tenacity? Dedication? Determination? Resolve? Willpower? Insanity? Whatever trait kept them to their experiment, I’m sure I don’t have it. Unless it’s insanity, but I fear mine is not the same variety as the crazy determination that saw James and Alisa through to the end of their project.

When I decided to eat more locally produced food I didn’t make many specific resolutions. I certainly didn’t limit myself to food produced within 100 miles of my home, though I’m sure I could live comfortably if I did. One thing I did decide was that I wasn’t going to buy produce shipped from China. I didn’t have any particular reason for this rule. China is the fashionable scapegoat of the moment, so I randomly chose to jump on that bandwagon.

My determination to forgo Chinese produce held for a short while. Then a flyer arrived advertising organic Chinese mandarins for less than $5 per box. This flyer arrived at about the same time as a lingering head cold. I couldn’t resist. All my good intentions vanished in one giant sniffle. I managed to convince myself that the organic-ness of the oranges balanced that fact that they were better travelled than I am. Imagined images of child labourers toiling to pick and pack oranges were of no use. I had a cold. I wanted oranges. Argument over. I am now half way through my third box of Chinese mandarins. And my sixth box of Kleenex.

Even after reading their book I’m still not sure what kept Alisa and James to their self-imposed limit. How did they stick with it when they weren’t at their best and craved the foods that bring comfort? The answer may be in their blog. I haven’t spent much time there. I don’t want to discourage my novice-blogger-self through overexposure to the work of these superstars of the blogosphere. Feel free to check them out yourself though, and get back to me if you figure it out. I’m off to enjoy another orange. Sniffle.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sid Delicious

A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox’s table, a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.

‘Good evening,’ it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, ‘I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?’*

Shortly after I was hired to teach in the teeny, tiny town, I was required to attend end-of-year staff meetings. I had not yet found my teeny, tiny apartment, and the nearest hotel was two hours away. I was dreading having to make a good impression with my new co-workers after an early morning wake-up call and a long drive. Still, it was an improvement over making the trip from my hometown four hours away. Fortunately a friend of a friend from university heard of my dilemma. Her parents had a farm in the area and were kind enough to let me stay with them.

I arrived at their place in the afternoon on the day before my meetings. My acquaintance from school had not arrived, but her mother welcomed me and gave me a tour of the farmyard. She told me about their field crops and showed me her vegetable garden. She explained how the guinea fowl that roamed the yard helped to keep the earwig population under control. In a small, fenced pasture near the house there was a cow and her ten-day-old calf. My hostess introduced us. Both mother and son were picture-book pretty. The son was particularly adorable in that downy, big-eyed way of all babies.

My hostess was just finishing up our tour when her daughter arrived. The three of us headed to the kitchen to prepare dinner. We were having salad, potatoes and steak. It sounded delicious and I said so. That was before I found out about the steak.

I eat steak. That wasn’t the issue, but when I eat steak it’s barbequed. There is a chemistry, a magic, that happens to a steak on the grill. These steaks were being fried. I loathe fried steak. It’s one of the few foods that can make me gag, and I can eat liver without flinching. I don’t mean the kind of gagging that causes you to grimace and soldier on. I’m talking about body-convulsing, eye-watering retching. I began to worry about our shared meal.

Add to this the fact that even when a steak is barbequed I prefer it to be on the rare side of medium-rare. These steaks had passed that stage several minutes before leaving the pan. And they were huge. Really, really huge. Hanging-over-the-edge-of-your-dinner-plate huge. Things did not look good, but I was determined to be a good guest, so I sat quietly at the table and whittled away at my steak.

I had actually made some progress with my meal, and was feeling confident that I could get through dinner without mishap. In retrospect, I had probably already eaten what would be considered a serving of beef, but I had hardly made a dent in my steak when the conversation turned to the farm. That was when my hostess turned and introduced me to my steak. “This is Sid,” she informed me. “You met his brother earlier. Sid was about the same size this time last year.” Sid’s brother was the ten-day-old calf I had met in the farmyard. Needless to say things did not go well after that. It was one of the most uncomfortable meals of my life. I feel like I failed some arcane farmer’s test that day.

I was reminded of this episode when out for dinner recently. I will state right now that the food was wonderful. There was no gagging whatsoever. I tell you this so you don’t get the wrong idea. The connection between the two meals is that both relied on local food. In the case of the farm, the food was so local that future dinners were standing right outside the back door. The restaurant’s ingredients were found a bit further afield, but were definitely local.

The chef of this restaurant is on a mission. He not only showcases local foods in his creations, but he is trying to narrow the gap between producers and consumers. To promote his mission, the menu includes stories about the producers and their products. The restaurant is decorated with photos of the producers and their offerings. Hanging above our table were photos of local farmers along with their fruits, vegetables and fuzzy farmyard creatures.

I was able to convince myself that the chickens in the pictures were for egg production, and that the cattle were dairy animals, but I couldn’t find an alternate use for the pigs. They looked happy, and healthy. Their curly little tails were still intact, but they were definitely examples of pork in its early stages. Across the aisle from our table there were pictures from the local bison farm. More examples of dinner on foot.

I can’t say that these pictures influenced my decision to order a vegetarian meal that night. If they did I wasn’t conscious of it. I did reflect on their impact later though, and once again I wondered about the ethics of eating meat when I can’t look my dinner in the eye. I’d like to be able to say that I’m all about food transparency, but in the case of meat, I’m obviously not ready for complete transparency yet. Maybe some day I’ll get there. In the mean time I’ll try to celebrate baby steps in getting to know my food. And hope that they never develop an Ameglian Major Cow:

’Well,’ said the animal, ‘I know many vegetables that are very clear on that point. Which is why it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am.’*

* From The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Wisdom of Soup

“Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!”

OK, none of it was green, and I don’t own a tureen, but it certainly was a week for soup. Hubbie had his wisdom teeth out last Tuesday, so nourishing, comforting and squishy foods were in order. Thus the soup. By the end of the week I could throw together a pot of soup with only a brief glimpse at a recipe for seasoning ideas and preparation shortcuts. Not bad, as until last week I hadn’t made many pureed soups.

I usually avoided pureed soups, as I thought that they were high in fat, boring and took too much effort for an item that could easily be purchased in a can. I’m happy to say I got over those ideas, and the results were quite good. There’s nothing boring about pear and gouda soup or Senegalese peanut soup. Even the more mundane soups like potato-leek and cream of mushroom were worth the extra effort.

The soups I prepared at the beginning of the week probably were higher in fat than necessary. By the end of the week, when I realized how flexible the recipes were, I started experimenting with lower fat ingredients. The last two soups had no dairy in them whatsoever, where at the beginning of the week I was using cream.

One of my biggest concerns about making pureed soup was the clean-up. For some reason I had the idea that these soups had to be pureed in a proper blender rather than with an immersion blender. We don’t have a dishwasher, and I’m not a big fan of cleaning small appliances. With this in mind I was hesitant to try making pureed soups, particularly last week when my blender was already being heavily used for smoothies. The idea of cleaning the blender several times a day was off-putting. Fortunately, I tried my immersion blender. It worked just fine, and is much easier to clean.

Best of all the soups were economical. All yielded more than one meal, and most could be made with local ingredients. I was glad I had planned ahead and made my own broth for freezing. In spite of this, by the end of the week I had exhausted my “stock” and had to use prepared broth. This added a bit to the expense, particularly since I opted for organic broth as opposed to the store brand. Still, it was worth the extra few cents for the satisfaction of knowing what was going into my soups.

While I’m happy that hubbie is on the mend and is now able to eat chewable foods, I’m also pleased that I had this chance to experiment with soups. Amazingly, I’m still not tired of it, even considering the vast quantities we consumed last week, and I’m looking forward to testing some of the recipes I found on the internet. Except for the mock turtle, of course.

“Soo-oop of the e-e-evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!”

Thursday, December 4, 2008


In spite of my best efforts, today's post is not yet ready, and I am in desperate need of a nap before I head off to work. Look for my exciting saga of soup tomorrow. In the mean time, here is a picture of my cat to keep you amused until I can proofread and post today's article.

And if you just can't wait for thoughtful articles about what and how we eat, may I recommend "The Goods Are Odd" until I feel more awake. See you tomorrow.

PS I didn't realize that Sage's post was also about soup when I linked to her blog. Must be a case of great minds. :)

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Look! Pie! I made it myself, with supervision of course. After reading about my lamentable inability to make pie pastry, a friend offered to teach me. She came over on Friday night and we made pie, drank martinis and played on the Wii. I had my doubts about the outcome of this lesson, particularly when the pie took forever to bake. We were using frozen sliced apples, and I had forgotten to defrost them in advance. I am proud to report that in spite of the delay there were no tantrums on my part. Might have had something to do with the martinis.

The apples kind of melded together to make caramelly, custardy filling similar to a pecan pie, but the crust stayed intact. If you look closely, you can even see the bottom crust in the picture. I’m not sure if you would call it “flaky”, but it was tender enough to cut with a fork, and it didn’t require chiselling to liberate a slice from the pan. A huge improvement over pies I have made in the past. I’m quite pleased with the results, particularly since the lesson has left me with enough pastry in the freezer for three more single-crust pies. We didn’t attempt a double-crust pie. That seemed too ambitious. I hope I can remember all I learned the next time I attempt to make pie pastry.

(Note: The apples we used in the pie were from the same friend's tree. She had given me an enormous box of apples in the fall. I made some into applesauce, which I then froze. Yummy on oatmeal in the morning. The rest I sliced, tossed with a bit of lemon juice, and froze. I didn't know what I was going to do with them at the time. I never would have guessed that they would end up in a pie.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Late post today, as I spent several hours shopping for new clothes. I finally got tired of wearing clothes that were too big. Yep, that’s right. I’m several sizes smaller than I was at this time last year. I couldn’t believe how many sizes smaller. I would have thought that I was a victim of vanity sizing if I hadn’t been shopping with a slender friend. We were trying on the same clothes. OK, often the clothes were too big for her, but they weren't that big.

So, what does this have to do with how I’m eating? Well, one of my goals when I started this blog was to change my eating habits without getting fat. At that time I had lost 22 pounds with Weight Watchers' online program, and I really didn't want to find them again. By September I was tired of counting points, and I had been inspired by what I had read in Michael Pollen’s
In Defense of Food. (I will mention his book often in this blog. After reading the library’s copy, I was so impressed I bought my own. In hardcover. Gotta get my money’s worth.) I wanted to “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” and maintain my new weight. I’m pleased to say that I have. Thus my new wardrobe, and this brief , late and boastful post.

Oh, and I will tell you if the weight reappears, but between the new clothes and today’s admissions, I’m going to my best to avoid having that kind of news to share.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


While I was at work on Saturday, my hubbie braved the crowds at the farmer’s market and scored some beautiful locally-grown produce. How cool is that? For $20 he got purple kale, a bag of walnuts, salad greens, beets with the tops on, leeks and shallots. It was all so amazingly perfect that I had to take a picture.

Of course, by the time I thought to take the picture we had already eaten half of the salad greens. It was the best salad I’ve had in ages.

I was so excited by the selection that I had trouble deciding what to make. What a wonderful dilemma! I got over that in a hurry though, and got cooking. First I roasted the leeks and the shallots with other vegetables then used the roasted veggies to make broth. I then cooked beet tops, kale and rice noodles in a bit of the broth and topped that with baked salmon steaks. I’ve never made anything like it before, and was surprised at how well the meal turned out, particularly since I didn’t exactly follow the recipe that inspired the meal.

The broth and the salmon dish hardly made a dent in the farmer’s market haul. I still had enough broth and kale left to make smoked sausage, kale and potato soup. Again, I didn’t exactly follow the recipe , but the results were yummy. I served the soup with a side of salad greens topped with cold steamed beets, walnuts and some feta cheese left from a tart I made earlier in the week.

It’s been inspiring to see how what I have in the house works with the farmer’s market goodies. So far all I’ve had to purchase was the smoked garlic sausage and the salmon. The garlic sausage was made by a local butcher, and for less than $5 I got enough for 3 meals. The wild salmon steaks were slightly over $2 each. They were small, but with the broth, greens and noodles they were enough. The best part is we had two delicious meals, leftovers, 1 ½ litres of broth to freeze, a few snacks, several salads and I still have produce from the farmer’s market trip. I’m so pleased. Pleased with the results, pleased with the value, but most of all I’m pleased with my hubbie for his shopping expertise. I wonder if I can convince him to go again this Saturday?

Thursday, November 6, 2008


News this week has left me feeling hopeful. This is unusual. I normally approach the news with healthy skepticism. OK, more like cynicism leaning toward paranoia, so it’s even more surprising that events of the week have inspired feelings of optimism.

It started early in the week when I read that Toronto council has approved a local-food procurement policy. The policy will begin in city day cares where 50% of the food served will be from local growers and producers. As I grew up in Southwestern Ontario, and think highly of food grown in that region, this was welcome news. Local farmers should be supported by government choices. The fact that several members of my family earn their living either directly or indirectly from farming added to my satisfaction in this story.

My mood was further enhanced when I discovered that the mayor of London, England is encouraging Londoners to grow their own food, and that County Councillors on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales are reviewing food service contracts to ensure schools are serving more local foods.

A story from the Dallas Morning News was the one that surprised me most. After eight years of George W. Bush, I have some fairly negative and stereotypical views of Texans. I was delighted to find that a member of Slow Food Dallas is creating an online farmer’s market. (I will admit that I was also delighted to find that there is a Slow Food Dallas. That blew a few preconceived notions out of the water.) The website will allow consumers to connect with local farmers and ranchers. I know it says a lot about my narrow-minded view of the world, but I found this story greatly encouraging.

Of course, my optimism comes with doubts. I am still a cynic at heart, but even a cynic can hope. I hope that all of these plans can be carried out responsibly. I hope that the plans are so successful that they expand and spread to other communities and organizations. The local-food issue is in the spotlight right now, so I’m also hoping that the plans are sustainable and can survive the next hot topic and the next election. I realize that is a frightening number of things to hope for, but given my current mood, I think it can be done.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Name That Veggie

It‘s the end of the growing season, and our local Farmer’s Market has cut back to one morning a week. That morning falls on a work day for me, so I can’t go. I’m really missing my weekly visits. Where else can I get the strange and wonderful veggies available at the Farmer’s Market? Certainly not at the grocery store. Over the summer I found wine-coloured carrots, and crunchy nano peas (purchased in honour of my techie husband) at the Farmer‘s Market. It’s where I discovered magical purple beans that turn a brilliant green when cooked, and it’s also where I found these:

These little items prompted a coast-to-coast international discussion (only because my sister and her family live on the east coast of the US, while I live on the west coast of Canada). They were so cute that I had to take a picture. I sent the photo to my family and invited them to guess what they were.

My nephew guessed that they were gourds. My niece guessed that they were tiny watermelons. Both reasonable guesses. My sister, on the other hand, thought that “they may be a snake.....but since you think snakes are oogly googly it must be one of their (the kid’s) answers.” That was her first guess. Her second guess was “cheese curds“. Apparently my sister needs new glasses.

My father provided the most creative guess. He thought they were “probably Fairy and Dwarf watermelons. They grow them small for the small people in the forests” on the west coast.

The items are actually Mexican sour gherkin cucumbers. They are a rediscovered heirloom variety and are in the same botanical family as watermelon. I guess that explains their melon-like appearance. (Actually, all cucumbers are related to watermelon. The other cukes must have missed out on the cute-gene.)

As for their taste, I must admit they were so much fun to eat that I didn’t really notice how they tasted. I put them in a marinated veggie salad, so there were a lot of competing flavours. I’ve seen them described as “lemony cucumbers with a not-off-putting note of watermelon rind”. I can’t confirm or deny that. I guess I’ll have to try them again when I see them at next year’s Farmer’s Market. There’s something to look forward to.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Danger! Dark Chocolate!

I continue to discover the most interesting things when I check the labels on food packaging. For instance, the following disclaimer was just above the ingredient list on a bar of Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate:

I had to wonder why the warning was there. I immediately thought lawsuit, and went lurking about the internet to see what I could find. I expected something between the McDonald‘s coffee case and a Seinfeld episode. What I did find was even funnier. Parody newspaper, The Onion, ran an article that was exactly what I thought I would find when I started looking for an explanation for the disclaimer. The only difference is that I expected to find an actual lawsuit. The lawsuit reported in The Onion was, obviously, a joke.

Of course, just when I thought fiction was strange, the truth jumps in with something stranger. A Fortune Magazine article, which was published more than 2 years after The Onion's article, talks about a lawsuit filed by New York City attorney Sam Hirsch on behalf of a group of obese teens. I think I knew about this case, which was dismissed, but I wasn't aware that any serious discussion came out of it. Apparently a few people were concerned about the impact of the case on the food industry. Impressive for a lawsuit that was referred to as a "laughingstock".

I never did discover why there was a disclaimer on my chocolate bar. Maybe Hershey's has put it there as a public service, although after reading the Fortune article I'm inclined to think that it's more about covering their assets.

UPDATE: November 6, 2008

After writing about the warning on my chocolate bar, references to Hershey’s chocolate keep cropping up. First there was the reappearance of chocolate bars that had been recalled two years ago for possible salmonella contamination. The bars were stolen from a disposal site. Makes me wonder how recalled items are disposed of. Somehow I thought they’d no longer resemble a saleable product.

Then I found a cute little Hershey bar in the basket of Halloween candy at work. I thought it would be too small for a warning, but when I turned it over there was a shorter caution. This one reminded consumers to “make sure you read the label every time”. Given the current concerns with Hershey products I don’t think reading the label is going to help. Unless you’ve memorized the barcodes affected by the recall, and if you have you probably have other more pressing concerns.

Monday, October 20, 2008


I’m reading Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. After reading about the feedlot and the processing plant, I was sure I’d never want beef or processed food again. Then I started reading Pollan’s description of his fast food meal. I suddenly felt like my will to make wise food choices had been overruled by a demonic lolcat demanding a cheezburger. Such is the power of his writing. Fortunately Pollan then went on to describe what was in a McNugget, so I was able to resist the pull of the Golden Arches. That, and a friend called and asked me to go for a walk. It never hurts to have a little extra insurance when battling the forces of processed carbs and fat.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Loaves and Labels

I’m learning all kinds of new things as I research the mysterious ingredients I find on food packaging. Just trying to identify the components in a loaf of bread has been most enlightening. I've discovered that the breads from my supermarket’s bakery contain an ingredient also used in the production of rubber and plastics (azodicarbonamide - used in the food industry as a wheat flour improver). I’ve discovered that all-purpose flour can be bleached with benzoyl peroxide. Yep, the same stuff I used to zap zits 20 years ago is also in my store-bought bread.

On the plus side, I’ve learned that suspicious-sounding biga is actually a starter used to make traditional Italian bread. It’s a type of pre-fermentation that seems rather complicated and makes me appreciate the work that goes into a local bakery’s Italian Country bread.

I also appreciate that the local bakery lists ingredients clearly on the front of the package. Not so with the supermarket bakery. I had to look up their bread ingredients online. Easy enough to find on their website, but because the information wasn’t on the package, I didn’t realize their bread contained unidentifiable and unpronounceable ingredients until after I purchased it. Lesson learned. Just because a product has a wholesome name doesn’t make it wholesome. Who would have thought that something as simple as whole wheat bread would contain an ingredient also found in Silly Putty and breast implants (Dimethylpolysiloxane - an anti-foaming agent. Because no one wants foamy bread, or putty, or boobs.)

I wonder how these ingredients make their way into such a variety of products. What sane person would try putting the active ingredient of acne medication into flour? Of course, they may have decided to use the bleaching agent from flour to make acne medication. I have no way of knowing which application came first. Either way, I marvel at the imagination it takes to make such a connection, even though I’m not sure I agree with the wisdom of the choice.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hormones, Holidays and Other Excuses

Grocery shopping yesterday. I will admit to buying a few things that are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike food.* I was shopping by myself, so I have no one else to blame for the rogue items that slipped into my cart. Instead I’ll blame it on hormones and the upcoming holiday. (That’s Thanksgiving for those of you who are unfamiliar with our strange Canadian customs.)

I cannot make pie pastry. Many have tried to teach me, but in spite of their best efforts, my pie crusts end up rock hard from overworking, or soggy from my tears of frustration. In my house pastry preparation involves extreme swearing, screaming and throwing things. I no longer attempt to make pie pastry. I buy pre-made pie shells. In fact, I bought one today. It was one of those items that slipped into my cart. You see, I want pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner. I can make pumpkin pie filling, and it’s far superior to anything you will find in a prepared pumpkin pie. I just needed something to hold the filling. Thus the prepared pie shell. I’m just going to ignore that I can only identify four of the eight ingredients listed on the package. I’m hoping that by the time Thanksgiving rolls around again I will have found a better alternative.

I’m in the early stages of re-thinking my food choices, so I’m trying to give myself some leeway. I consider it part of my goal not to drive myself crazy about this process. Instead I’ll give myself credit for the many good choices I did make. Given the PMS emergency, I’m actually pleased that so few extras followed me home. I mean, how could I resist candy-coated chocolate or microwave popcorn? Besides, I’m sure the chocolate items don’t count. I bought them from the bulk section, where there are no ingredient lists. I’ll assume they are of the highest quality, organic, healthful ingredients. For today. When I feel less like I’m being hijacked by my hormones I’ll try to find reasonable alternatives. Then the next time I feel like I’d trade my house, my car and my cat for a bag of chocolate-covered potato chips I can be prepared.

(Note: When I wrote the bit above, I thought chocolate-covered potato chips existed only in my imagination. Then I Googled “chocolate covered potato chips” and found out that they do exist. In fact, you can get a 3lb box of them delivered to your door. What a time to discover that little bit of information!)

* My humble adaptation of a wonderful, useful turn-of-phrase coined by the great Douglas Adams.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Quest Begins

Once upon a time I lived in a teeny, tiny apartment in a teeny, tiny town in Midwestern Ontario. And in this teeny, tiny apartment was a teeny, tiny kitchen. Most closets are larger than that kitchen, but I loved it. It was my first time on my own, and I was excited about preparing my own meals. I had new dishes, and cookware, and glassware, and cutlery. I became a compulsive collector of kitchen gadgets and cookbooks.

I had a very well-equipped teeny-tiny kitchen, but there was a problem. Even though the teeny, tiny town was surrounded by farms, fresh produce was difficult to find. I could usually get the basics, but even that was sometimes challenging. Lettuce was often wilted by the day after purchase, and slimy the day after that. Potatoes sprouted before my eyes. Friends in urban areas were cooking with exciting ingredients like lemon grass and Thai basil. The most exotic thing at the local grocery store was broccoli.

I managed to work around these limitations. I bought produce, often local, when I visited out-of town family on weekends. I let colleagues know that I'd be pleased to accept excess veggies from their gardens. I made some pretty good meals. (And some disastrous ones too, but that's another story.) Then I decided to use food as part of a lesson in my classroom, and the quest for the elusive onion began.

Allow me to explain. I taught elementary school in the teeny, tiny town, and I had found this cute rhyme about predicting the weather:

Onion skin's very thin,
Mild winter coming in.
Onion skin's thick and tough,
Coming winter will be rough.

Since prediction and weather were both age-appropriate topics for my class, I decided to run with it. I found a few other ways to predict winter weather, and my morning lesson was planned. Or so I thought. In spite of what I had learned about the availability of produce, I was determined to have a local onion for this lesson. I mean, what was the point of trying to predict local weather with an imported onion?

As silly as it seems, I couldn't let go of the idea of having a locally-grown onion. I harassed grocers and staff members. I pestered my students' parents. I grew increasingly frustrated. It really shouldn't have been that difficult to find an onion. After all, I had managed to find a cow's heart for my Valentine's Unit the year before. (The kids loved it. At that age mucking about with a cow's heart is much more fun than making ornaments from construction paper and lace doilies.) I didn't find a local onion, so I had to make do with an imported one. The kids didn't know the difference, and I'm sure they wouldn't have cared if they did.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that I didn't find an onion for that lesson. The local farms were predominantly cattle farms, with a few pig and poultry farms thrown in to break up the monotony. Crops were grown to feed the farm animals. Still, I often wondered what the farmers were eating. Besides their animals of course.

I now live a half a continent away from that teeny-tiny town, but I was reminded of this years-old quest a few weeks ago. I had a case of tomatoes that I wanted to make into sauce. The recipe I was using required an onion, and I didn't have one in the house. It was a beautiful, sunny day, so instead of zipping down to the nearest grocery store, my husband and I decided to drive out to the farmer's market south of town. I figured that if I was going to the trouble of making sauce, I might as well have a fresh, locally-grown onion purchased directly from the source. It wasn't until I got home that I noticed its sticker. My farm-fresh onion had been imported from Washington. Apparently the quest continues.