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Archive for December, 2010

I`m writing this at midnight knowing full well that the alarm clock will rung loudly around 5AM this morning and that I will be at the market by 5.30 at the latest.  I adore shopping for a dinner party and New Years will see me finalizing my menu as I shop in the early morning.  There`s nothing quite like it – and I mean that in a good way.

Dana and I were surprised to learn yesterday that we were both nominated and named as finalists in 2 categories of the Canadian Food Blog Awards.  Humbled, honoured and flattered beyond belief is the best description of how we feel.  Seeing the names of the other blogs (as well as some that are new to me – and having checked them out, I have some more reading to do as I`m excited to see some content and people I dearly want to know more about) made me gulp to be included on the list.  We are most thankful.

It`s very easy to write at 5AM and forget that people actually read.  I don`t mean that to insult those who do – I am grateful for your visits, comments and sharing of your own experiences.  It`s just that when one writes at 5AM, generally still bleary eyed and writing a post that I literally dreamed about, it`s easy to imagine that no one would be interested in the output.  One of the reasons for starting the blog was so that I could go back and find my own preserving recipes and perhaps that helps perpetuate that bias.

It`s my understanding that there was a huge amount of entries – well over 100 early into the process.  To be named as finalists in `the categories of `Best Niche Blog`and `Best Local Seasonal` blog is as large an honour we`ve had in the time we`ve shared this hobby.

My main reason for today`s post is to send a hopeful thank you to the individual or individuals who nominated us as well as to thank the organizers (the wonderful Beer and Buttertarts is spearheading this) for their work in compiling all of this together.  The truth of the matter is we were planning a self-nominating (which was allowed) when life got too busy.  Thank you for taking the time to nominate us and sharing the word we are trying to spread together.  My smile touched both my ears all evening this eve.

You really should take a look at all of the finalists – there`s a tonne of great blogs in the list of finalists (as well as many not on it) – time for me to check out a few more before tucking in and dreaming of the final touches to the menu tomorrow night.

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Life is busy – it’s that way for many of us.  I wake up at 5AM, write for up to an hour and am out the door before 7.  I get home 12 hours later, we walk the dog and it’s 8 or 8.30.  A quick look through the fridge to see if there’s enough to cook something and a decision to cook or eat out.  While we cook fairly often, we really could eat at home more with a tiny bit of planning and a few more ingredients in the cupboard.

The problem with our ‘pantry’ (which is really just a series of shelves) is that it’s full – and barren.  To be clear I am really talking about everything that isn’t a preserve – tins of mystery ingredients, unmarked spices and random quantities of different beans, grains and rice.

This years goal is to take control of the pantry.  I’ve been doing some research and here’s the plan:

  • Clear out existing items that won’t be used.  I’m going to take things that I haven’t used out of the cupboard and place them on te kitchen table.  We’ll begin by cooking our way through those things to make room for the core staples.
  • Label the spices and herbs.  I have a bunch of small mason jars waiting for the bags of mystery spices.  Spices that I don’t use often will also have to be purged or used (preferably used)
  • Deliberately choose 20-40 must-haves and a quantity for each.  Although I don’t know the contents of the list I know some of the items such as:
    • Large jar of honey
    • Flour – 2 mason jars of 1 large bag
    • Instant yeast – bread
    • 2 types of rice – large mason jar each
    • 1 large mason jar of dried barley
    • 1 large container of maple syrup
    • 1 large mason jar of lentils
    • Stock.  Lots of stock (preferably made here).  A large freezer would change our life (though we could pressure can it).
    • 1 large mason jar of dehydrated split peas
  • We will keep backup of most – which is fairly easy since things like Lentils come in large bags which are bigger than a mason jar.  I’ll keep the backup separately and when I dive into my backup supply, I will add that ingredient to the shopping list.
  • Each item that is a staple will be marked as such (I’m thinking a sticker on the bottom) so that I can remember that I have backup and learn what my staples are.
  • We will develop a catalog of recipes that can be used with my staples so that cooking in a jam can be done without thought.  These recipes will also incorporate ideas for mixing in our preserved (like mixing jam with balsamic to make a glaze for chicken).
  • Other seasonal ingredients can easily be added to these recipes.

I am realizing, as I am typing, that the other benefit of such a system and learning to choose our core pantry items is the possibility of preserving many of these things – or complimentary items (such as split peas which we did last year and missed this year) that will add to our repertoire.

I also plan to cook beyond my staples – the benefit of having a steady supply of core ingredients is not to limit our choices but expand on them.

Any tips from others out there?  Anyone else want to join?  We`ll post about our progress and share links, photos and tips we receive from others – I`m bounding with excitement to get started (although I better cook for New Years first).

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It`s been a very unconventional Holiday season for us.  We`ve had a fantastic Holiday and are returning home after 10 days of living day-to-day and travelling over a lot of Eastern Ontario.  More than 1,000 kilometers of pavement stands behind us and I`m writing this post after what seems like a full day of chores and straightening out.  It`s been mysteriously pleasant.

We really are so fortunate – and had an awesome time with Family over the entire Holiday.

We now find ourselves staring down New Years (a Holiday that I am not overly fond of) and are excited to be hosting a party for a change.  A small crowd of 8 friends is coming over for a night of revelry and a feast.

I have promised to be a little lighter this year.  Last year`s feast was a marathon that few got through.  The theme was cream – each guest consumed about 500 ml of dairy products through the evening.  A special prize goes out to Sue who braved lactose intolerance and made it the distance (although I think her Beef Wellington went home in her purse as it did for several of our guests).

A combination of brainstorming this years theme and comments from others asking where to start planning such an evening inspired this post.  Here`s a few ideas for New Years (or any other time):

  • Choose a single letter of the alphabet (inspired by my childhood favorite, Big Blue Bear book…):
    • Open with sweet latkes (potato pancakes)
    • Transition to a lobster bisque (1 lobster will feed a crowd in this manner – or the shells from a previous dinner)
    • Lake trout with lemon as a main
    • Lime sorbet for dessert
  • Progress through the alphabet (I like the idea of not telling people what you`ve done on this until the end):
    • Apples with Baked Brie
    • Cauliflower soup
    • Duck with Eggplant, Fingering Potatoes and Gravy
    • Homemade Ice cream (yes I cheated)
  • Pick a central unexpected theme – like fruit…
    • Peaches with baked brie in puff pastry with walnuts and maple syrup
    • Watermelon gaspacho
    • Pork tenderloin with applesauce and poached pears
    • Cherries jubilee (everyone loves a good flambe)
  • Seasonal or local (not so unconventional from our perspective I suppose):
    • Squash or turnip soup
    • Grilled pears with maple syrup
    • Local beef braised in wine, garlic and onion, roasted potatoes in sunflower oil.
    • Candy apples
  • A single ingredient like apples
    • Apple and cheese tray
    • Mulled apple cider (in place of a soup)
    • Pork braised in hard cider, applesauce side and julliene carrots braised in sweet apple juice
    • Baked apples stuffed with brown sugar and cinnamon
  • A take on the theme – i.e. for non-Religious Easter have a vegetarian Easter Bunny Feast and eat what the bunny would (optional: add bunny).  apologies to our veggie friends for both the bunny humour and the limited options below – the point I`m trying to make is that it doesn`t have to have meat to be interesting)
    • Salad of greens and wheatgrass
    • Carrot soup
    • Seared melon, roasted veg (green peppers, celery, kale, broccoli florets and herbs)
    • Grilled fruit for dessert
  • Eat by colour
  • Serve a different food group for each course
  • All courses feature a similar theme or ingredient – like seafood

Our theme this year?  It`s still in progress and a closely guarded secret until the New Year.  The theme is tied closely to the Holiday and it`s traditions – for now, that`s my only hint.

What are some themes that have worked for you in the past – or what tips do you have to share with others?

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Happy Birthday to..Us

WellPreserved turns 2 today.

More than 800 posts and 730 days of consecutive posting.  We became bloggers while I slept (the story of our origination was here) and it’s safe to say that the idea for this blog is only a few hours older than the blog itself.

Thank you for being a part of the journey.  I am especially thankful for all who add comments and make this a two-way dialogue – getting people talking has been the toughest part of the blog without question.  We have long hoped that this would become more of a gathering place of thought and people and we’ve seen some tastes of that this year.

Visits to the site have been humbling.  Today will mark the 120,000 view of the site this year (up from 41,000 last year).  I had thought that 100,000 would be a difficult stretch goal to hit.  This doesn’t include the several hundred of you who subscribe to our daily musings.  Thank you all for your visit and participation.

WellPreserved continues to be a hobby.  It`s one that sees me often waking up at 5AM to participate in (something I would have laughed about when we started).  We`ve met a lot of people that we adore, been fortunate to share some great stories and learn a lot and it has helped Dana`s graphic design business find some great projects to work on.

Pimp your Preserve was also a really fun event that has inspired some Holiday gifts around the world.  Love the participation we got from those who jumped in on the fun, added to the comments or simply voted.  With less than 12 hours left in the voting there was a 3-way tie for first place.  It`s a staple that`s likely to continue next year.

We participated in our first event this year – and cooked for more than 800 people at the Brickworks Slow Food Picnic.  We have long wanted to participate in more events – trying to balance limited time in the day with this desire has also proven to be a challenge.  We`ll see what this year has in store.

We had our first published articles appear in Edible Toronto (click on the Preserving tab above to see the 3 of them).  This was a real thrill for us and a giant thankyou to Gail for including us.

We`ve been fortunate to have had several other publishing projects this year.  As those books (written by others) are released, we`ll share some more details.

A new format for posts will launch on January 1.  It`s a minor change – posts on the home page will only show a preview with a `click to read more`option.  This will allow you to scan the homepage for things you are interested in – and hog less space for those using RSS feeds for subscribing.  It`s a minor tweak that I believe will allow you to easily determine what you want to read and feel less like it`s being forced on you or hogging your screen.

We have some lose plans for the year ahead.  Both of us have a few things we`d really like to do `to`the blog (I`d really like to make navigation and finding things far easier and Dana has some design ideas) but time will tell.  The truth is that we`re not sure where this journey goes – and haven`t been too concerned with that.  We also have some ideas for articles and regular features that we`d like to bring to you.

Coming up with topics continues to be a challenge.  We continue to serve our central theme of `conscious eating`and preserving food, culture, tradition and the importance of food at the table.  My favorite part of the blog continues to be meeting people (digitally and physically) who are on similar journeys.

We`d love your ideas for columns, articles, posts, requests for recipes or general direction (including constructive criticism) to make this a better place.

In the meantime, it`s time to find me a piece of cake…

 

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My Uncle was a Milkman for many years.  It wasn’t that uncommon 30 years ago – and is a tradition that I believe continues to this day in some parts of rural Nova Scotia.  I was able to join him for a day of his deliveries about 15 years ago and found it to be an amazing experience.

Delivering milk may sound like an extravagant deal.  It probably makes more sense in the context of homes which are 15 minutes (or more) from a local corner store, which was the case for some of my family.  I remember seeing the milk truck amble up the large hill to my Aunt and Uncle’s house to my utter fascination.  My cousins would trade tokens (I remember them to be something like a poker chip) in exchange for gallons of milk.

There was a time in the city that we had such service as well.  When my parents moved into their present home in Markham in the late-70s, there was still a milk slot (since removed) that allowed the local delivery to occur with no one home.

My Uncle would pick up milk in his delivery truck a few times a week.  He had a route that took him around his small island several times over the course of a week.  The few local stores were serviced daily while each household was visited twice weekly.  It was his responsibility to find his own customers and there was a strong rivalry between the two large milk producers that serviced the area.

Visits would start well before light and continue through early afternoon.  It was tough, physical work that was done at a splinter’s pace.  Uncle Greg simply knew what a house was likely to want, fill his arms with their order and run to the door.  If he didn’t guess right it meant a trip back to the truck, back to the door and back again – lost time, energy and effort.  He would typically risk carrying too much to save these extra trips.  Nova Scotia is rocky and bumpy and these trips were more than a simple walk across a sidewalk.

The most surprising factor, to me, was his access to homes.  Some were left unlocked while others had hidden a key for him to use.  The majority of his visits saw him entering a house, loading the fridge, grabbing the right number of tokens (on honour) before dashing out the door.  This happened before a house woke up at 5AM and continued as families sat in their housecoats around the breakfast table.  Their was no knocking, ringing or waiting – a quick dash into the kitchen, a friendly exchange of banter and back out the door.  Enough to provide great service – not enough to slow down the long day of deliveries ahead.

Bad weather offered extreme challenges.  It would make difficult driving even more difficult but the real challenge became getting from door to fridge without leaving a trail of dirt and without impacting your length of delivery (which could be well over 100 stops in a day).

The end of the day saw a long drive to meet with a large transport which serviced several trucks like ours.  The transport would take all of the empty milk vessels we had collected and we refreshed our load from it.

My Uncle did the entire thing by memory.  Greg is still an amazing guy for figuring things like this out (he’s amazing at organizing things and coming up with systems) – how he kept which houses to visit on which day and remembered who drank what and how much still confounds me.  It was this ability plus the absolute physicality of the job that were most surprising to me.

I don’t think I could do the job.  It’s a tradition that I find romantically endearing and find myself wishing was more prevalent – even though I can’t explain why I feel that way.

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My Christmas errands brought me to the LCBO (our Provincially-run liqour stores) and a quick rummage through the beer selection offered a few memories of seasons past as well as a few choices I hadn`t seen before.  Here`s some of the bottle`s we`ve tasted this season:

Barley Days Cherry Porter (5.5%, Picton, Ontario)
The cherry takes a backseat in this bottle; I`m not sure I would have picked it out in a blind tasting.  It`s on the sweeter side for a porter and is an easy drinking dark beer.  I think those who adore porter may call this a little tame but it is an easy drinking beer that could be drank year-around.

Dieu Du Ciel Corne Du Diable (God of the Sky Brewery, Hor of the Devil Beer, 6.5%, Montreal, Quebec)
Quebec has long roots in Religion – many Craft Brewers have reference to Religion, Folklore and such traditions.  This hard-hitting IPA is alcohol-forward and plenty bitter.  It was my favorite beer of the Holidays (so far).  It pours a beautiful dark-amber, it`s head is perfectly balanced and the beer is crisp and refreshing.  Considering the Holidays is a time when we eat a lot of vastly different flavours, it`s a treat to have a single taste that`s strong enough to cut through the different cheeses, snacks and feats we share while still leaving your palate in tact for the next taste.  This beer does just that.z

Brooklyn Brewery Double Black Chocolate Stout (10%, Brooklyn, New York)
This is a return to out fridge.  It screams dessert.  I love pairing this with parmesan dipped in chocolate.  It tastes of molasses or chocolate and is just a fantastic winter beer.  It`s an adult alternative to hot chocolate and also pairs fantastically well with a comfy sweater.

Russian Gun Imperial Stout (8.4%, Cambridge, Ontario)
Russian Stout tends to be heavily boozy.  Despite the high ABV, this stout was smooth to drink with no surprise finish (I find the boozy stouts can take your breath away a few seconds after a large gulp).  This was super-easy to drink and the only criticism I can think of is that purists may find it a little too tame to fit into this style.  This is a great beer to introduce people into darker and higher alcohol beers.  I quite enjoyed it.

Meantime Coffee Porter (6%, London, England)
This is the cutest bottle that exists.  It just makes the contents feel special.  Meantime is a very cool beer maker – consider that their coffee porter has won `Top 50 beer in the World` several times over and that they have an exclusive beer club that`s open to only 500 members.  Each of the members of the College Beer Club gets 2-750 ml bottles of rare beer sent to them each month for the low-cost of about $800 per year.  Meantime won brewer of the year in England in 2008.  Their coffee porter is a light-tasting porter with a heavy coffee influence – each bottle contains the same caffeine as a cup of coffee.  It`s a pleasant drinking dinner beer that was lovely with our turkey dinner.

Southern Tier IPA (7.3%, Lakewood, New York)
I love IPA.  If there`s one thing that the traditionally bitter ales labelled as IPA suffer from it`s that the style has become so interpretive that it`s tough to truly guess what the contents of a bottle may taste like.  Higher alcohol can dull the flavour of a beverage so those with high booze content tend to have amped-up flavours.  This beer is no exception – it`s very bitter and it`s taste turns the corner to taste almost like a spruce tree blended with citrus fruit.  It`s an interesting combination that I didn`t adore (though I found it easy to drink) and Dana`s mother loved.

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Christmas Eve is a big night at our house for Christmas.  As a child I recall visiting Nova Scotia for several of our Holidays.  We would head to midnight mass, get home and see that Santa had arrived.  A party would last well into the early hours of morning and the Turkey was often put in the oven before the last parents went to bed for a few hours.

The traditional Christmas Eve party meant that the oven was well consumed by the time the house woke from it`s slow slumber later in the morning.  Houses were often jammed full of people and feeding a hungry mob can be an interesting challenge which is made more complex by the lack of a major cooking appliance – and the addition of a hangover.

An Acadian meat pie was the traditional solution.  Each area of the east coast has it`s own traditions – different types of meat (ranging from rabbit, boiled chicken with pork fat and more), different types of crust (thick, thin, flaky or doughy) and even the shape.  A square pie was an awesome treat for four crust lovers who got the corners and a circle made a pie easier to share.  Even the method to reheat can be quite the subject of debate.  And let`s not even start to discuss whether it`s a `pie`or a `tortierre.`

Moose isn`t readily available in Nova Scotia (though they have plenty of deer and there are a lot of moose in Newfoundland) and the addition of my Father to the family (before my arrival) also brought the option of moose to the family.  Dad has been perfecting his moose pie for 15 or 20 years and it continues to be a staple breakfast for Christmas morning at our house.

The crust is biscuit-like.  It`s thick and doughy and when it`s originally cooked in an oven, it`s stiff as a board and highly inedible.  The filling is either ground moose (mixed with ground pork to increase the fat content slightly) or chunks of whole moose cooked with onion, some mushroom and a lot of gravy.  A liquid sauce is needed as the crust tends to drink the sauce in.  The pie is baked when it`s first made (weeks or months before the holidays) and is frozen whole.

Reheating is part of the magic – whole frozen pies are steamed for an hour or more.  The humidity softens the crust and adds moistness to the entire plate.  The irony that we now use bamboo steamers imported from Asia that weren`t available here 10 years ago isn`t lost on me.

The pie is served with a bounty of preserves – beets, pickles, mustard pickles and more.  It is easily one of the best meals of our year – and something that even people new to moose tend to appreciate very quickly.

The meal is a heavy meal that can easily inspire a mid-morning nap and can easily carry you through to a family feast – also followed by a post-bite slumber.

These pictures (pre-steaming) don`t do the final product any justice – they are a golden brown, moist and lovely:

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