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Archive for August, 2009

A local grocery giant is running compelling commercials demonstrating their commitment to eating local and persuading people to support local farmers by going to their store and voting with your wallet.

Their definition of local appears to be Canadian.  This is not unique but important to mention for clarity on their delivery.  We live in the second largest country in the world and veggies can travel more than 4,000 kilometers within our borders and still be considered local according to the Nationalist definition.  We published the story of Whitey the long haul trucker (The Real Cost of Food) which is a good compliment to this post.

I went to one of their stores yesterday.  The entrance was filled with Canadian produce.  It was an impressive start.  I started to count the amount of imported produce versus that which was Canadian.  We are in the middle of harvest season and I expected more.

I stopped counting when I got to a count of 117-15.  Imports were almost 10-1 over the local food.

There were more than a dozen types of apples – 2 were from Canada.  Chille, Argentina, France, New Zealand were all there.  There were pears from China, Argentina and South Africa – it took me two passes of the produce section to find Canadian pears but you had to buy them by the 3 liter basket

We are very big proponents of buying consciously – understanding what we buy and choosing who we support.  Sometimes that includes buying food from far away – it’s difficult to make marmalade without citrus after all.  We are not close to 100% organic or local – we are trying to do our part wherever possible.

I am not condemning the store – I don’t know the issues of getting more local food.  Maybe it wasn’t available…  Maybe local farmers are refusing to sell them…  Maybe they are supporting local more than any other big chain and will sell more and more local if people are willing to buy it.  I don’t know the details – I just find myself confused when comparing the reality to the images of the advertisements.

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On our recent trip to the maratimes I gathered photos of some of the local fishing boats (boats which are often used for lobster and crab and sometimes for pleasure).

I thought it would be a fun Sunday post to challenge you to come up with a name for your imaginary (or perhaps real) fishing boat.  Many of the ones below are named after family members (my favourite is the first picture which belongs to a family friend named Guy – he is married and has daughters)…

Tonight, I`d have to go with `Joan of Arc.`  For starters, she`s a noble woman.  I know Dana would make a great icon for the boat to match it.  And, after all, it is my Grandmother`s awesome name (technically Jeanne DÀrc – just as was the real Joan).

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My Mother has been eating these for so long that I remember turning my nose up at them in favour of Kraft Dinner.  I`m not entirely sure what I was thinking as a teenager at the best of times – in this case I don`t have the foggiest.

I assure you that this is the most wonderful taste of fall I know.

Sandwich base (assemble from of list to bottom):
Fresh pumpernickel bread
Feta cheese
Cucumbers
Thick tomato slices (heirlooms optional)
Salt, Pepper

Dressing (a standard oil and vinegar will do, here`s a sample):
3-Parts Oil
1-Part Balsamic
Minced Garlic (I use a rasp to pulp it)
All the fresh herbs you have – chives, basil, oregano, parsley are all great in abundance
Honey (if you want)
Dijon (if you want)
I add salt, pepper, chili flakes.

Drizzle dressing on sandwich and wait for it to seep through to the bread.  Give the flavours time to introduce themselves.  Eat with knife and fork.

I know of nothing better than this awesome taste in the summer.  What are your harvest favourites?

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The first answer that comes to mind is a very cheeky, `Whatever you want.`  While that`s not far from the truth, it wasn`t all that long ago that I found myself asking the very same question of these diverse clusters on mini-mushrooms (which, because of their size, in variably has me looking for tiny little blue smurfs running in all directions when I chop or place them in a hot frying pan).

My favourite use for these is very simple.

I start by separating them (often piece-by-piece) into single units.  I heat a bit of oil (and often garlic) and fry them golden brown in a hot skillet.  I add pepper, sometimes chilis and sometimes finish them off with coarse salt as they come out of the pan.  I add them slowly to keep the temperature of the pan up but I do end up cooking them all at the same time, stirring frequently to avoid burning the ones which entered the pan first.

I then pile on top of a very simple bitter salad that is topped with chevre.  Often it`s as simple as arugula (or spinach), chevre and pepper.  I use a bit of oil and vinegar in the spinach, lemon and oil if I`m using the arugula.  Toss it all around to wilt the greens a bit and soften the chevre.

What are your favourite mushrooms and uses for them?

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We spent the weekend of August 22nd-24th camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Our trip included what is now a mandatory visit to Norman Hardie and his vineyard.  This is a magical place to me and one that is a very rare treat today – a chance to visit an amazing vineyard and meet the people who make the wine with their hearts and souls.  There is a small, charming team that comes together to make the magic that they do and a visit will put you in direct contact with the people and their passions that make your wine.

Norm and his team are as intoxicating as their product and have become fast friends of ours.

Though I know what I like, I will openly admit to not being a wine expert.  Allow me to share some expert opinions of the wines (these focus on his newest release which though many of his past, including the County Pinot Noir are also very well received):

“Norman Hardie Finds Perfection by Blending Two Ontario Regions”
– Christopher Waters, editor of Vines Magazine (this review was in Kingston Life and you can see it here)

“A recent trip to Prince Edward County, one of Ontario’s Designated Viticultural Areas (DVAs) located on the north shore of Lake Ontario about 2-2.5 hours from Toronto…One wine in particular that I was especially blown away by was Norman Hardie Winery 2007 Cuvée L Pinot Noir.”
– Sarah Goddard, certified sommelier (her article is here)

“****½”, “recently added – most viewed, rated the best”
– Ontario Wine Review (here)

“Norman Hardie Cuve L Pinot Noir 2007 (60% Beamsville fruit, 40% PEC; hence its VQA Ontario designation): Deep ruby colour; minerally, black cherry bouquet; elegant, well balanced, firmly structured and bursting with youthful charm. Tastes like a Pommard in a warm year. A lovely glass of wine (91+).”
– Tony Aspler (30 year professional wine writer; article here)

A visit to this winery is a lesson in passion, a treat to the tastes and a place to ask questions and learn.  In my experience it is rare to get close to the art of what is being produced.

We visited the winery on Saturday and bought a bottle of the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  Both bottles were to be paired with a hearty meal and a campfire.

Norm insisted we borrowed a set of proper glasses and we promised to return them on the way home.  We wandered into the rows of grapes (with his permission and guidance) to take photos of what we saw around 11am Saturday morning.  We had to walk almost half way across the field to find some grapes starting to turn and the initial photos are below.

We returned around 4:00pm the next day.  We were greeted with great excitement – it was like we had arrived on Christmas day.  The fields turned a magical corner between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.  We walked 10-15 yards before finding a massive difference in what we had seen the day before.  The grapes are starting to turn en masse.  Look at the difference between the pictures above (which took a lot of hunting for) and the ones below (which were in abundance).

30 hours can be a world of time when we slow down to take each moment in – these fields clearly understand that…  I’m still learning that lesson.

A decision will soon be made to cull some of the field to ensure they get optimal fruit and flavour.  Norm is hoping for long sunny days for the rest of summer -and we’re hoping with him!

More info on the winery and Norm can be found in one of our earlier posts here.

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Our truck veered off the road around 4:30 PM on a sunny Friday afternoon.  The feeling of dirt under wheel is a familiar and welcome memory and I remember simply feeling good about being back in the country.

We had pulled over to visit a small farmers stand.  It was our third stop for food – I was being picky and had refused to buy anything from the first two stops (which turned out to be resellers – basically grocery stores in disguise).  I was looking to buy direct from the person who grew it and I was willing to wait.  I should have been able to figure out that the first two were reselling – they had massive selections and this small stand had about 4 things.  I am still learning that when things are this fresh that I don’t need 30 options.  4 items are plenty when each has been pulled from the field that day.

I knew we were on the right track as I passed two gentlemen standing to the side who were talking about tomato blight and the fact that it was everywhere this year.

We were greeted by an older Scottish woman.  She was very sweet and took pride in her offerings and we knew we had found what we were looking for.  She had corn, tomatoes, onions and a few other veggies.  The tomatoes were being offered by the half dozen – too many for 2 days of camping and only Dana and I.

“Can we buy only 2 or 3?  I don’t want to waste any.”

She looked sad at first – and then her face lit up.  She wandered away for a moment and came back with 3 field tomatoes that were as big as any I’ve seen.

“All of these have blemishes – I’m sorry but it’s all I’ve got other than the ones in the basket.  My husband wanted to throw them out because no one will buy tomatoes like these.”  I committed to 3.  Our grand total for tomatoes was $1 (we spent an additional $2.50 on a red onion and 6 corn).

They were some of the best we’ve had this year.

I couldn’t believe that people would skip over tomatoes like the one above.  I have done some reading on message boards since and it does appear that many would see a blemish as a fatal flaw in the selection process.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but a surprise to me – perhaps one mans treasure is another mans garbage after all!

If all tomatoes looked perfect, there would likely be a price to pay – waste, potential taste and other trade-offs.  Are we really this picky?  Do we really insist on “perfection?”  Do we really want beauty over substance?  (OK, I’ll admit the last is a little melodramatic :))

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We are so very fortunate – that is both the big giant “we” that the webiverse contains and the little tiny “we” that is Dana and I.  In the context of this post I can only share the details of the “micro-we”… ‘)

Dana and I have now been to Prince Edward County 3 times this summer with a fourth trip planned in September and I’m sure the surprises of fall and early winter will see us return.  We had a lovely weekend that was centered around camping in Sandbanks Provincial Park and eating/ drinking locally.

Prince Edward County is a 2-2.5 hour drive east of Toronto.  It captures the essence of Island living combined with a superb environment that is ripe with agriculture, horticulture, vineyard and culture.  There is also a lot of water, outdoor activity, sandy beaches and great characters.  It has become one of our favorite places to be.

A typical venture to the county, for us, includes an important piece of luggage: the empty cooler.  We buy produce, meat and veggies locally (as well as wine and, often, beer) and aim to indulge in the feeling of eating as local as is possible without growing it yourself.  We recognize the double-standard we are creating in that we are driving to the food and if it were coming to us it would be more fuel efficient and less than local but this is a conscious illusion and one which brings us great pleasure.  It also leaves us wanting more and perhaps the day will come that the drive is much closer.

On Friday night we purchased our first meal – 6 corn, 3 monster tomatoes (more on them in a day or two) and a gorgeous purple onion.  The total cost (paid direct to farmer) was $3.50.

We ate corn on Friday and Saturday night as I experimented with different ways to cook them directly over the campfire (something new for me).  I thought I had placed the fresh cobs (husks on) onto the fire a little early as plenty of flame was still sneaking through the grill:

When cooking with a campfire, one typically attempts to have a lot of coal with little flame, similar to this:

Hunger got the best of us though and we let the heat do it’s magical thing, making sure that the husks did not burn completely through.  The husks protected the inner sweetness and, essentially allowed the corn to steam within it’s protective outer layer:

Trial and error showed that fresh corn can take as much heat as a fire can throw at it.  There was no need to soak it, wrap it or be overly protective from the fire.  We watched closely and let it cook until almost all of the husk had burned away which produced a wonderful smoky-flavor while retaining the moist POP that only fresh corn can provide.  To think of all the years that we boiled water in our screaming hot houses – we could have been cooking it on the bbq with less work and less heat.

Saturday night was the better of the two – if only because of the 2 bottles of wine we purchased from Norm Hardie (who insisted, as friends, that we borrow a pair of Riedel wine glasses for the campfire pairing).  We’ll share more about Norm and the 2009 crop in the coming days.

Altogether a wonderful weekend away for the two of us!

For more info on Prince Edward County, check out the Taste Trail and the upcoming TASTE! event (a one-day event that generally sells out in advance).  let us know if you`re going out and we`ll send you some places to see (this offer INCLUDES those of you we don`t know of course 🙂 – the more the merrier).

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