Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Down on the Farm

Can you guess where I was today?  Rubber boots. Dirty kneesThey can only mean one thing.  Spring is here and I spent my morning at Sleeping Cougar Acres.  It was my first working visit in a while, and I was thrilled to be back.

It was perfect weather for working outside.  Sunny, but not too hot. It felt wonderful to be back.

The greenhouse was full of exciting things for this year's garden.

The mason bees were busy being bees.  This house just went up, and already there are new tenants.  If you look closely at the lower hole of the first "E", you can see where they've moved in.

L and I decided we'd better get busy too.  First we emptied all the weed-filled buckets in the vineyard.  I got to drive the tractor. That's always fun; particularly when I can't quite remember what I learned last year.  

We then worked on refilling the same buckets with more weeds.  It's a never-ending job, but at least I know there will always be something for me to do.  Today we worked to the accompaniment of ravens quorking in the trees and Snowbirds zooming overhead.  There's always someone or something flying over or wandering by as we work.

Above is the site supervisor making sure we both stayed on track.  When we had completed our work to his satisfaction we headed to the house.  L served homemade grape sorbet, made with juice from last year's harvest, and homemade pizzelles. You can understand why I keep going back!

On the way home I stopped at Brambles to see what was new.  I timed it perfectly.  They had just received Island-grown strawberries.  First of the season.  We'll have those with whipped cream for dinner tonight.  Between the appetite I worked up at the farm and the promise of fresh, local strawberries I can hardly wait to eat!

Monday, April 12, 2010

More Catching Up - Duck Eggs Revisited

I wish I had the elusive ability to describe how something tastes.  Then I could tell you why I enjoyed my duck eggs so much. 

Online descriptions of duck eggs range from "strong" and "gamey" to "rich" and "creamy".  The thought of gamey eggs made me a bit nervous, so for our first meal I paired the eggs with feta cheese and kalamata olives.  I figured these strong flavours would mask any gaminess from the eggs. 

Three eggs made a generous frittata for twoIt was tasty, but the cheese and olives completely obscured the eggs.  It was hard to tell if they were gamey or not, which I guess was my plan.  Sort of.  It would have been nice to have some idea of what the eggs tasted like.

For our second meal I decided to match the eggs with more subtle flavours.  Hubby and I topped toasted homemade bread with sautéed greens and garlic, poached duck eggs, not quite hollandaise sauce and chives from the garden.  

You'll have to excuse the fuzzy picture.  They looked so good, and we were so hungry that I didn't have time to take a decent picture.

The poached eggs didn't just look good; they tasted good too. I will admit the whites were a bit rubbery, but that could be the cook's error rather than a fault of the eggs.  I still don't have the hang of poaching eggs!

The last, and largest, egg was hard-boiled and made into egg salad.  Once again we cast homemade bread in a supporting role and added lots of veggies to make some of the best egg-salad sandwiches I've ever had.  Yes, that's sandwiches - plural.  That one egg, combined with all the other ingredients, made enough salad for four sandwiches.

I wish I could explain how these eggs differed from chicken eggs. The words "smoother" and "rounder" come to mind, but that doesn't really tell you much.  With that vocabulary I could be describing their shells as much as their taste.  Let's just say I wish I had more of these eggs.  Alas, duck eggs seem to be a spring treat.  I haven't seen duck eggs again, but I'll certainly be looking next year.

In the mean time, something rather surprising came out of this ducky experiment.  I created something I'm calling "Not Quite Hollandaise Sauce". (Short for "almost, but not quite, entirely unlike hollandaise sauce". Yes I was inspired by Douglas Adams.  Who isn't?)

I wanted something to top the poached duck eggs, but I didn't want anything with chicken egg in it.  Partly because I'm too intimidated to try to make traditional hollandaise - remember I still don't have the hang of poaching eggs - but mostly because I wanted to be able to taste the duck eggs.  I figured adding chicken eggs would defeat the purpose.

I searched for vegan versions of hollandaise, but they all seemed to call for tofu.  That wasn't quite what I was looking for either.  Again, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to taste the eggs. I didn't have any tofu in the house anyway, so that idea was out. 
In a fit of I'm-not-sure-what, I compiled a list of ingredients from other hollandaise recipes.  Once I omitted the eggs, butter and tofu I was left with a list of components that would add flavour and colour, but I needed a base for those components.  I chose plain yogurt.  What I ended up with was a light sauce that was vaguely reminiscent of hollandaise.  It complimented the eggs without obscuring them, and there was enough left over to combine with pasta, artichokes and parmesan for another meal.  Bonus.  

The recipe still needs work, but I'm including it below anyway.  I'll continue to play with it and tweak it.  I hope you'll do the same and let me know what works for you.

Not Quite Hollandaise Sauce

1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
1/4 tsp salt
pinch turmeric
even smaller pinch cayenne

Combine all ingredients and let sit for a while in the fridge.  Use as you would hollandaise.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Still Life, Love and Food

I just re-read yesterday's post. It sounds like it was written by an emotional adolescent - right down to the requisite spelling and grammar errors. Yikes!  I shouldn't be surprised.  I was an emotional adolescent when I first tried to express my concerns about such issues - some day I'll tell you about my ill-named and short-lived Pollution Club.  I'm going to claim that yesterday's post was a flashback to those days.  

If you'd like to experience complex topics handled in a skillful fashion I suggest you head over to Life, Love and Food and still life where writers Rose-Ann and Ammie are creating a series of tandem posts.   Each week they choose a topic to write about on their blogs. So far they've tackled: cooking without recipes, long-distance friendships, gender and science.  These eloquent writers have dealt with each topic beautifully.  Their thoughtful posts move me and encourage me to look at the world in new ways.  I aspire to write like this, and if I ever think I'm getting close to their level of competence I'm going to invite myself to play along. 

Strike another item off the yellow list...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

This Little Piggy Said Squeak, Chitter, Squeak, Squeak All the Way Home

More catching up…

I've wanted to comment on this story for a while, but I kept pushing it aside as I dealt with other things. I think it's about time it was crossed from my list.

Scientists at the University of Guelph have created genetically engineered pigs. Mouse DNA was introduced into the pigs' chromosomes to create environmentally friendly animals. In fact, they are calling the resulting animals "Enviropigs".

The genetic changes allow the pigs to "produce manure that is 30 to 65 per cent lower in phosphorus than found in the manure of regular pigs -- blamed for polluting surface and groundwater when raised in intensive livestock operations."

The animals have been under development since 1999, but it wasn't until this year that Environment Canada determined that the pigs aren't harmful to the environment. This is one of the first steps toward getting the animals approved for human consumption.

I know it is incredibly naïve of me, but wouldn't a more appropriate solution to environmentally hazardous pig poop be to stop the intensive farming of pigs? Although I admire the incredible creativity and dedication of the scientists who created these animals, I don't feel that theirs is the right solution.

As it is, Environment Canada concluded that the pigs are environmentally safe only if they're kept in a contained environment away from other pigs. The twelve pigs currently residing at the University of Guelph are housed in a "high security, alarmed research building." I'm sure that's not just for the protection of the pigs.

Somehow, the idea that the Enviropigs must be kept separate from other pigs doesn't make me feel any safer. It's one thing to keep a dozen pigs confined in a research building. It's another thing altogether to ensure that the thousands of hogs found on the average factory farm are kept segregated from other animals. I envision things going seriously wrong in spite of safety measures and good intentions if Enviropigs are raised on such farms.

In another story on the same issue, I discovered that the university is "trying to find licensees, especially in China…the country with the greatest need for this technology." I found this detail to be less than comforting. Environment Canada would have no way of regulating how the pigs are contained in China. How long would it be before contaminated pork products were making their way back into North America? Recent news stories involving other dangerous made-in-China products seem to indicate that it wouldn't be long at all.

Now here's where I get really paranoid. We now have pigs that are genetically modified with mouse DNA. These modifications have changed the composition of the pigs' manure. Rodents, like mice, are the primary carriers of Hantavirus. Hantavirus is contracted by humans when they breathe in dust contaminated by infected rodent droppings. Scientists have created an animal with the DNA of a mouse that poops on the scale of a pig. I'm sure you see where I'm going with this.

Hubby thinks I'm being silly. I must say I agree with him. I am being silly, but I hope my silliness proves a point. I feel it's impossible to predict the kinds of complications that will arise when animals like these are taken out of the lab and released into the real world. I'm sure swine-Hantavirus won't be a result of this experiment, but I wonder if that's the sort of extreme outcome we'd need before we realize this isn't such a good idea. There's a small voice in my head that chides "maybe that would learn us", but I'm afraid it won't.

I'd like my bacon without so much rodent please.



Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Catching Up

I'm at my desk with a list, scribbled on a yellow legal pad, in front of me. It details all the things I've wanted to share with you since my last post.  Expect to hear from me a few times this week while I get caught up.  

Today I want to let you know that the marvelous Meghan Telpner of Making Love in the Kitchen has released a new tutorial.  I think this one, Healing with Everyday Superfoods, is my favourite so far.

If you've ever wondered why goji berries are so special, or were puzzled about what to do with the gravelly little suckers once you got them home, then this tutorial is for you. It covers everything from exotic foods like goji berries and maca, to everyday foods like cauliflower and rutabaga.  Meghan gives you the health benefits for each type of food and provides tips for incorporating more of these foods into your diet.  She's included recipes, and for those of you who are up to the challenge, there's a five day meal plan based on super-delicious superfoods.

As always, Meghan handles her topic in an informative and humorous way.  You'll learn the basics of Hippocratic Medicine, discover the shortfalls of food guides and hear her 88-year-old grandmother's thoughts on calories.  (I think Meghan's grandmother is adorable.)  There's a lot of information in this little package.

For those of us who might feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material in the tutorial, Meghan will be hosting the 5 Days Healing with Everyday Superfoods Challenge.  Starting April 18, and through the duration of the challenge, Meghan will offer Twitter coaching and respond to superfood-related email questions and blog comments.  Participants get support from Meghan and from each other through her blog, making the challenge, well, much less challenging.  

If you're feeling up to the challenge, or if you're ready to explore some new and healthy foods, check out Meghan's newest tutorial here.  Enjoy!