Category: Local Food

Writing Day

Dreamed all night about Nina’s buying club … which yesterday hit a snag with the city’s by-law officers. I was afraid this might happen, since anything to do with both food and business seems to grab the attention of authorities. But I’m struck by the absurdity of the situation: living in a city and buying local food, as directly from the farmers as possible, though without actually driving to each farm individually, is suddenly a subversive act. Travelling in a third world country, you’ll see a great mixture of urban and agriculture; chickens and pigs in back courtyards, for example. But we got so sophisticated in our cities that apparently we no longer wished to have any connection to the food we eat, so we legislated such practices out of existence. How bizarre. If the mass-market system of food production collapses, or at the very least is strained … what then? There are very few things we actually need for survival, and food is at the top of the list.

There’s a meeting tonight at Nina’s, and perhaps some creative ideas will be forthcoming. I just want to keep eating the food she’s making available to our family! It’s hard to imagine going back to the same old, same old.
And now: writing day. Our babysitter has a cold, but hopefully will come anyway. We all have colds too. Baby CJ is now crawling!!!! Yes, moving himself forward across the floor, usually in hot pursuit of a toy or book. He loves books. Yesterday I discovered him gnawing a library book (no, I can’t and don’t keep my eye on him every second!), but snatched it away before he’d dissolved the cover. Watching him so impressively motivated to Move, I think there’s an inborn human restlessness, a desire to be getting somewhere else, reaching a little further, something that compels us toward our futures, and toward accomplishment. It’s a kind of optimism, too, that something better awaits, just out of reach. But there’s a flipside to that urgency to move; and that’s our great difficulty appreciating the present moment, chewing on that toy contentedly, even for a second or two. I know I’ve visited those moments of inner stillness when I realize later that I wasn’t thinking about something else. Those moments exist because I inhabit them wholly, and in an odd way, they exist because I’m not marking their existence.
Sometimes, I get those moments on writing day. Sometimes hanging laundry. Sometimes playing piano with the kids. Sometimes walking outdoors with them too. I am always grateful for them, even while I recognize and celebrate the necessity of that other impulse–to plan, and to Move. Yay for baby CJ!

Cooking Ahead

Overheard: F with Kevin and baby CJ in the living-room: “It okay, daddy, baby be happy. You can go to work now. You can go your office and sleep.”

This afternoon I spent cooking. Chopping veggies endlessly, using up the bits and bobs in the fridge, the wilting clumps of CSA parsley, the bag of collected beets and beet greens, fretful-looking cabbages, and on and on. I made borscht, an obvious choice given what was lurking in our fridge, a positively giant pot, though not with a typically meaty broth, just added a frozen steak bone to the brew; fresh dill from Nina’s, bought specifically for this meal. Meanwhile, I prepared a second giant pot, this one of fresh tomato sauce, using tomatoes from Nina’s, garlic, onions, celery, and a couple of despondent eggplants from the bottom drawer. I was going to toss in some green pepper, but luckily tasted first; they were CSA and an odd shape, and turned out to be hot peppers. So I chopped and froze those for later, a theoretical later because cooking for kids means leaving out the spicy-hot. Kevin and I douse our food at the table with a variety of hot sauces to satisfy our tastebuds. Maybe I’ll make a spicy salsa someday this winter??

The above paragraph doesn’t sound like it should have taken two hours of my day … but it did. In fact, it was probably more like three hours when all was said and done, and I’d placed supper on the table–the borscht is what we ate tonight. We also ate a small bowl of oven-roasted teeny-tiny potatoes, a whimsical mixture of varieties. These particular potatoes represented a joint family effort. I discovered a handful of forgotten potatoes this past spring, sprouting in a paper bag in our cold cellar. I’d just read somewhere that potatoes are easy to grow, so I suggested we cut them up and stick them in the ground. Kevin and A planted them out back along our fenceline, which gets a bit more sunshine than it used to. And lo and behold, the potatoes grew. A and AB dug them up yesterday. Okay, it amounted to a couple of generous handfuls, but they were beautiful and wholly ours. That was our first course for supper: our summer’s crop of potatoes, roasted with salt. We’re totally biased, but man, they tasted good.

Fortunately, we don’t have to live off them all winter long …

The other food, and indeed, the leftover borscht, is for meals later on this week. I’m finding the post-school-scramble to be unfavourable to cooking (it’s madness, actually, to be preparing meals from scratch amidst the melee), so this week I’ve planned and cooked ahead. This will only get more crucial as we add in music lessons and swim lessons, both after school, along with our other commitments, both pleasurable and necessary, adult and kid.

I also boiled eggs for the kids’ lunches (one egg per kid, per day), and made the kids’ school lunches for tomorrow. I always make the lunches the evening before, usually while preparing supper (I’m not a morning person at the best of times; it’s wise not to overload my dawn duties). This year I’ve been sending a container of cut-up fruit (peaches and plums and pears right now), a simple sandwich of Nina’s ham and a bun/bread with either mustard or butter, a baggie of cut-up veggies (carrots, celery, green pepper–actual green pepper, that is), a container of dried fruit and seeds (apricots, raisins, cranberries, sunflower seeds), the egg, and usually a little something extra too. AB gets a cookie because she’s been brushing faithfully after her meals at school; A still needs to prove himself, but I did send each of them a little container of sesame snacks for tomorrow.

Alright, this has been a stolen moment (or three) and things have gotten positively out of hand behind me … meaning, it’s time for mama to cease the ceaseless typing and read a bedtime story. We’re nearing the end of Little Town on the Prairie, and Laura is already 15 years old. I’m admiring how her parents trust her as they encourage and watch her develop a social life in this brand-new frontier town. The next book (These Happy Golden Years) was always my favourite, but that was when I was a teen and I’m recalling there’s some pleasantly romantic stuff, which may not fly with the seven- and five-year-old crowd. We shall see …

Beach and Pear Sauce

Last long weekend of the summer, and we decided on one last hurrah–a day at the beach. The instant baby CJ was ready to sleep, we headed north, and drove and drove and drove, remarkably peacefully through the rich, ripe farmland of southwestern Ontario, past an Old Order church with the “parking lot” loaded with buggies, past stands advertising everything from quilts to corn to spanish onions, most “No Sun Sale,” past fields of cut wheat and those new-fangled gigantic rectangular bales of straw that must be moved with tractors, not unloaded from wagons by hand (a job I did as a kid), through the town of Teeswater which was setting itself up to host the upcoming International Ploughing Match, and coming to a stop, finally, along the road to Kincardine at a little roadside gas station/diner/tanning salon in a fly-through hamlet called Riversdale. We’ve eaten there before, always and only breakfast, and seen the grandpa who runs the grill peeling potatoes by hand. There’s a sign on the wall that says “Any complaints about the cooking?” (or something to that effect) and shows a woman holding a shotgun. When we ate there earlier this summer, A read the sign, then said very earnestly, and a bit nervously, to the woman who came to take our order: “I won’t complain about your cooking.”

The teenage granddaughter took our order. Pancakes, omelets, home fries, toast, et cetera; by the end of the meal we’d filled our salt quota for the day, but in a good way. Off to the beach. Kincardine has a lovely public beach with boardwalks along dunes. There’s some mention of an undertow on signage, but the kids and Kevin always go swimming. (If you must know, I no longer even pretend to take my swimsuit on these ventures because the chances of me being overwhelmed by the urge to put it on and dunk myself completely is so slim it has no precedent). But I like public beaches. I like staking out a little territory in the sand with the umbrella and chairs and blanket and bags, and I like people-watching. People are so endlessly interesting. Baby CJ was a bit of a mess today, and it’s because he’s suddenly five months and darn near crawling and incredibly mobile and no longer an infant. Note to self: they really do grow this fast.

So that was our beach day. I sat under the umbrella, mostly, though did wade mid-calf into screechingly frigid Lake Huron because the day was a good hot one. The hottest we’ve ever had at this beach, and this is our third summer going.

We left the beach hungry and exhausted, and cruised the main drag discovering an “Asian grocery” with hot samosas advertised for sale. Which was supper, along with exotically flavoured chickpea-flour chips and some seaweed for good measure. So yah, we were all starved by the time we got home. The kids had watched Star Wars One on the computer, and Baby CJ had screamed for at least forty-five minutes, off and on, despite one stop for a nurse (oh, the relief in his eyes when he realized he’d been freed from the cursed car seat, the joy, the delight; and then the fury to discover this was but a temporary ruse).

Got home to discover the pears on our countertop had spent the day going from green to overripe and gnat-ridden. The kids and Kevin shook these pears down from a neighbour’s tree yesterday morning; she offered them to us, and said her tree hadn’t borne fruit in nineteen years! (Which, come to think of it, makes me wonder whether our trees were fruit-bearing this summer due to Kevin’s google-guided pruning, or because this has been a season of fluky fruit bounty …).

So I’m making pearsauce. It bubbles on the stove behind me as I type. I had beach-brain, but figured I could do PB and banana sandwiches and supervise showers while peeling and coring and cooking down these pears–otherwise destined to be lobbed by Kevin off our back porch toward our black walnut tree–into something edible for a leaner season. They smell delicious. Okay, update: now I’ve mashed them with a potato masher (it’s a chunky sauce) and will add some lemon juice and sugar momentarily, then freeze in ice cube trays for an easy school lunch treat.

Actually, I almost considered casually canning the lot, then remembered I still hadn’t gotten lids … okay, “almost” being the operative word. But still, I’m putting lids on my list lest the canning fancy strike unannounced. It won’t be for peaches, however … that half-bushel I debated buying from Nina? We’re eating our way through those effortlessly, and I’m pretty sure she said those might be the last of the season.

Hello summer melancholy; and it’ s not even fall.

Onions, Apricots, Work Work Work

Haven’t mentioned that we got the bushel of onions we ordered from our CSA. I was expecting the tomatoes to arrive first, and had, quite frankly, forgotten about the onions. “How do we store these things?” I asked Kevin, who has exactly as much expertise as me, so I relied on the google consensus. Dry or cure the onions first, then store in mesh baskets, or–a more creative option–pantyhose. I’ve got loads of old pantyhose (my current job doesn’t exactly come with a dress code), so that’s my eventual plan … once I get these onions off my table. We have a huge dining-room table, very plain but long, and virtually half of it is now overtaken by our curing onions. Kevin teased the kids that they would have to eat three raw onions every night to get rid of them. These are big, beautiful yellow onions, and I started to do the math on how many we’d need if we were to feed ourselves with stored onions over the winter. Say, one per day, or even five per week (not much for us; I use onions in virtually everything), that adds up to … well, a lot more than what’s on our table currently. How did people survive before grocery stores??? If we were to rely on what I’ve put up this summer, we’d be hungry before Thanksgiving … and I’m trying hard. Anyway, the onions are supposed to cure for 2-4 weeks before storage. This might impede our hosting ability …

Today was Nina’s buying club. She had extra help this week, and it felt very well-organized and smooth, even though a lot of people were there when I was. AB sold sweets, as she’s done before. I got a half-bushel of blue plums, so we had to make room in the fridge for them. We hadn’t gotten through our apricots, so I halved them, removed the pit, and froze them on baking sheets in the freezer till solid, then popped them into bags. My canning/freezing guide recommended a syrup or sugar pack instead, but I’m hoping that’s just to keep the colour; too much extra work, plus I don’t like sugary things. I tasted one frozen and it was delicious, so maybe this will be a winter fruit treat when we’re eating nothing but apples. I also put away two bags of plums since some arrived a bit over-ripe. But they are delicious. My fruit plan this summer is to binge on whatever’s in season. We will survive on apples and the occasional never-seasonal fair trade banana in the winter, so let’s celebrate the variety and flavour of summer fruit.

This evening, I had to skip joining the family at Buskerfest, which is happening just up the street from us. There was simply too much work to be done. I had four days’ worth of laundry sitting unfolded in baskets, plus diapers to fold, plus the day’s dishes, plus these apricots to put up, plus the main floor looked like small people had been randomly flinging every toy in the house while simultaneously half-putting together every puzzle and dumping every game with small pieces, while inventively scissoring and pasting sheaves of scrap paper. For days. Which is exactly what had been happening. It was 7 before Kevin got the kids out the door to eat their Buskerfest supper (hot dogs and sausages; gelato for dessert), so I stayed home instead and fiendishly attacked the disaster that was our home. I’m only just done and it’s past midnight. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration–I did a few other things between now and 7pm, including sit on the couch and drink a beer.) I won’t be able to clean tomorrow, because Kevin will be painting in the kitchen and dining-room. He’s going to take the week off work specifically to get this done, and we wanted to get a jump on it. We’re both hoping it won’t take the whole week, so that we can enjoy a bit of a family holiday, too, before school starts.

School starts …!!! I’m not ready. This has been such a fine summer. And I love having all my kids around me. They’re such great kids. I realize every parent will tell you this, and every parent who does is absolutely right.

Comfort Food

Food is a comfort. In a real, visceral way, when I’m feeding my body, I’m feeding everything I want this body to be and do, I’m embracing life and celebrating the desire to live and breathe … and feed.

Yesterday’s comfort food:

Oatmeal cooked by Kevin, for breakfast. (Local oats, via Nina.). Still need a better topping option, because I find plain sugar, brown or white, does not agree with my teeth. I just don’t like the sensation. So I usually eat it unsweetened with a bit of milk. Bland and solid.

Lunch was a squishy finger-licking panini eaten over top of baby CJ’s head while watching Vicky Christina Barcelona at Movies for Mommies uptown. Talk about a luxurious moment. Roasted eggplant and pepper and melted cheese and fresh basil, a good movie (really? Woody Allen made this?), and alone time for me and my gorgeous babe, a complete rarity. That moment made the mad dash to get there worth every scrap of effort.

For supper I made my ultimate comfort food: black beans and rice. I cooked four cups of dried beans with a handful of whole peeled garlic cloves, a bay leaf, and salt. We eat this over brown rice and a variety of accompaniments, depending on the season. Yesterday we had CSA lettuce salad with sunflower seeds and a honey/balsamic dressing, chopped tomato salad with a very light balsamic dressing (tomatoes are here!), local sheep’s feta from the market, local whole milk yogurt, a few crumbled nacho chips, and hot sauce. “Thanks for making this food,” A said, or something along those lines. This is everyone’s favourite meal, everyone’s comfort food. The kids and Kevin also ate the sweet corn from our CSA box. And then F went to brush her teeth and floss immediately afterward.

Before bedtime: less-stress tea, a mixture grown and composed by Karen Kliewer of Little City Farm. With honey (from Nina). Thank you, food.

Pear Cake and Sick Baby

So Kevin found more pears and apples on our trees yesterday. The pears are particularly beautiful, and the apples, though bumpy and small, have a tart old-fashioned flavour. With help from F and AB, I used them in a recipe for apple cake from MCC’s Simply in Season. It calls for 5 cups of chopped, unpeeled apples and turns out very dark and moist, almost too moist unless eaten immediately, and I’ve had success cutting it into squares and re-baking it at 300 or so, turning the squares, until the crust becomes crispy and the sugars carmelize.

I peeled the fruit, and substituted pears for most of the apples. The very first apple I chopped open, out leapt a large bug! AB thought it was an earwig. It crawled across the cutting board as I ran madly for something to squash it with (too squeamish to do it bare-handed). “Now that’s an adventure in local eating,” I said. AB wondered what an adventure was, and I said it was something unexpected and exciting. AB said, “I think you did scream, Mommy.” Oddly, that apple had no visible holes, though others did, and none of the rest had bugs or worms.

What with F snacking, all the chopped pears and apples added up to 4 cups, not 5, but the cake can be made with less fruit, though the 5 cup version is superior.

Here’s my modified recipe for Apple (Pear) Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Combine 5 cups apples (pears) with 1 cup sugar (1/3 to 1/2 cup more, if you’ve got a sweet tooth) in a large bowl. Let stand.
In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup oil, 2 lightly beaten eggs, and 2 tsp vanilla.
In a third bowl, combine 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp salt. You can sift this together if you want (I didn’t).
Stir flour mixture into fruit alternately with egg mixture. Spread in pan. Bake 50-60 mins. (In my oven, it’s 50 mins.), or till toothpick comes out clean.

The Simply in Season recipe includes nuts and a sugary-cream glaze, but for my taste, this is just right as is. If you find it almost too moist, as I did, cut into squares, and rebake as suggested above. I haven’t done that step with this version yet because the peeled pears were not as juicy as the apples. But I might, just to see how it does; if I do, I’ll report back later.

In other news, baby CJ has a nasty cold and stuffed nose, and could not settle last night. So after our usual Olympic gorge, Kevin and I went to bed with this fussy little guy. I thought we might be awake all night, and around 12:30AM almost went downstairs with baby to watch more Olympics. I wanted to see the finish of the triathalon. But with lots of nursing, baby was able to sleep, off and on, and miraculously, so was I. Non-stop breastfeeding seemed to be the best medicine. (I did not regret that cheese and tomato sandwich scarfed right before bed). So I don’t know what happened in triathalon. But this morning, I watched Karen Cockburn win silver in the trampoline, a sport that brings back memories of jumping most unspectacularly in a friend’s backyard many many years ago. And I just watched our equestrian team clinch silver in show jumping. As AB says, “I really really want to be a horse rider in the Olympics.” Yah, I hear ya, kid. She also wants to keep a horse in our backyard. It’s like listening to myself, oh, twenty-odd years ago.

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