Category: Local Food

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.

Eggs, Chard and Olympic Addiction

Yesterday evening’s adventure in local food did not start out well, but all adventures need their downs as well as their ups. Kevin had gotten three dozen eggs from our favourite egg farmer at the Kitchener market. Lately, Kevin’s been running down to the market by himself, which ends up being a much more efficient use of our Saturday time; though in the past we have enjoyed going with the kids and staying for lunch. I’d also gotten a HUGE bunch of chard in our CSA box, and remembered that my friend Heather has spoken fondly about chard in the past, so I figured she must know something I don’t, and she kindly sent a recipe called “trouchia” from a cookbook called Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. In addition to the chard, it involves eight eggs. I hardly ever (no, never) cook with eggs. This may change. Eggs make secret appearances in my baking, but otherwise eggs are breakfast food at our house, and Kevin does breakfast.

So I was cracking farm-fresh eggs into a big bowl, when the seventh one whooshed into the bowl in a darkish, completely liquid mass. A rotten egg! I’ve never seen a rotten egg before, whole in its shell. I tried rescuing the other eggs, but couldn’t completely save them from the encroaching cloud. I must have Depression-era blood in my veins, because pouring out those seven eggs felt insanely wasteful. It almost seemed preferable to risk food poisoning. But not quite. The second go-around I cracked each egg into a small bowl, then poured it into the big one. No more rotten eggs.

Here’s Heather’s recipe for trouchia, only slightly modified:

Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a pan you can also use in the oven. Saute 1 onion, chopped, 1 clove of garlic, minced, and cook slowly, about 10 mins, then add your chopped chard leaves (I did not use the entire massive bunch, because I was planning on feeding it to the kids; I also used chard I’d previously blanched). Season with salt and pepper as desired.
Meanwhile, whisk together 8 eggs, add 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley or other herb of choice, 1 cup grated cheese (I used Nina’s cheddar), 1 tbs parmesan, and a pinch of salt. When the chard is cooked, scrape the contents of the pan into the egg bowl, stir.
Preheat oven broiler.
Reheat the pan with 1 tbs olive oil, then pour in the egg/chard mixture, give a stir, let it cook on medium-high for about a minute, then turn it down to low. I covered the pan with a lid at this point. It took longer to set than I’d expected, perhaps 10 mins, or even more. Cook till set, but still liquidy on top. Then remove lid, sprinkle on 1 tbs parmesan and perhaps some extra cheese, and set under broiler. Watch closely. Broil just till set and browned.
Serve in wedges from the pan.

The kids LOVED it. (Usually we have at least one nay-sayer; not this time). Adult family members loved it too, plus it presented very attractively, which my food generally does not. I tend toward hearty two-pot meals, stews, beans, rice, pasta. A ate three pieces of the trouchia, or approximately one-third of the total. We ate it with buttered bread (Nina’s), and a pot of Leftover Surprise: brown rice, hamburger and zucchini stir-fry, and black beans heated up together into an utterly delicious stew. (An example of my usual style of food; good and tasty, but not exactly pretty). No dessert. We rarely do dessert.

Kevin and I popped a bottle of bubbly wine (it was the only kind we had on hand), and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. AB said, “We don’t have to hurry tonight, do we?” After reading from The Long Winter, our bedtime book of the moment, and flossing and et cetera, Kevin and I sat down to watch more Olympics, which are always on in the background these days. I said earlier that it’s exciting to watch our Canadian athletes performing personal bests, and that’s true, but watching a Canadian athlete perform a personal best AND win a medal LIVE really gets me off the couch. Yes, Canada has finally medalled at the Games, thank you women wrestlers, rowers, and a fine young swimmer. Last night, we got to watch a 19-year-old Canadian man from B.C. come third by a hair in the 1500 metre freestyle, an event he wasn’t predicted to medal in. We were on our feet with a whoop at the end, feeling the joyful buzz of a tribal win that must be bred in the bone. We might imagine ourselves sophisticated and civilized, but what are the Olympics but a giant celebration of some basic human tribal impulse? That was my Big Thought of the evening, perhaps assisted by the bubbly.

Pear and Apple Cobbler

Some good adventures in local food today, including Nina’s buying club. I took pictures, but haven’t figured out how to post those easily yet, so will put off doing that till later. She’s also got a chicken coop in her backyard, the cutest coop you’ve ever seen, but my kids weren’t interested in posing. Too busy playing. And begging for apricots. And squabbling over the fact that we hadn’t brought enough money to buy a giant pretzel (or, better yet, an almond horn) for each. Lessons in sharing. Not necessarily lessons learned, but lessons nevertheless.

While I was cooking supper, Kevin came in with apples and pears from the trees in our backyard we’d written off as dying. They haven’t produced since we moved in five years ago, but this spring Kevin did some pruning (Google-guided), and … pears and apples!! A said: “Quick, take them to Mom so she can cook them!” Since they didn’t go in my beef stir-fry, I thought I’d whip up a cobbler. Ah, yes, whip up a cobbler. The kitchen was at this point in a state beyond disarray, the dishes having not been done all day, supper in progress. But with help from Kevin and AB, the apples and pears were getting chopped while I cut butter into flour (local and local). AB wanted to cut an apple. They were small and hard, and I said, better not, but she is very determined, and next thing … blood!

It was one of those moments that makes me blog in my head, if you know what I mean. I’ve been doing this for years, long before blogging existed, and it helps cut through the crazy moments (at least, for me): I mentally narrate as we go, imagine dressing up the moment in fabulous or funny or tragicomic or whatever style best suits. It never flows quite as fabulously out of the moment, but oh well.

The Scene: Utterly disastrous kitchen, sink piled with pots and plates, vegetable debris on counter, flour on floor, baby sleeping, A unloading a 1/2 bushel of apricots into the fridge for me, radio on, F playing on her own, AB and Kevin happily chopping, rice steaming and wok bubbling, and me measuring, when ack! “I cut my finger!” Shrieking and howling because this child is nothing if not melodramatic, I race her to the bathroom, door partially blocked by apricots and A, run nasty gash under water, bandage, all the while assuring her she won’t bleed to death. “If only I’d listened to you Mommy,” she actually says. Am I a terrible mother for finding some pleasure in that rarest of statements? Adding to the moment, F immediately dashes upon hearing shrieks and begins wailing that she herself is mortally wounded too, coincidentally also on her hand, clutches my leg, look look Mommy (on close inspection it appears to be a well-scratched bug bite). Of course, the moment is soothed and conquered, and we move right on, finish the cobbler crust, lay it over sugared fruit, set the table, et cetera.

Can I also say that I did so many dishes tonight the accomplishment was medal-worthy? Funny story: The other morning, after Kevin had gone to work, the kids kept regaling me with: “Daddy did so many dishes this morning!” and “You wouldn’t believe how many dishes Daddy did this morning!” and “Did you know Daddy did a huge pile of dishes this morning?” It was true. He’d washed the dishes I hadn’t gotten to the previous night because he’d been at soccer and I just couldn’t manage them (this never happened before the birth of #4; somehow, I always always managed to wash the dishes at the end of the day, kind of a personal policy for me, clean kitchen, happy house, or something like that). So, yes. He’d done a day’s worth of dishes first thing in the morning. I was grateful. But clearly I’m not selling my own dishwashing very well. When I asked, the kids had no idea that I regularly (ie. EVERY DAY) washed the same huge pile of dishes ALL BY MYSELF! They weren’t impressed, though. There’s some fundamental difference between the things Mommy does and the things Daddy does. What is it??? I don’t know. It’s not Kevin’s fault. He pitches in always and spends a lot of very very hands-on time parenting and keeping this house going. But still.

Before Lunch

By their very nature, these posts have to happen during brief lulls, which makes it seem I’m permanently at the computer, the kids in the other room, baby on blanket, crafts this morning, et cetera. And I’m not. Honestly. If there’s any one secret about parenting four kids, it’s this: it’s a lot of work! Prepare to have your life completely overtaken by work. Prepare to have laundry permanently in all stages of done to undone: dirty and piled on the basement floor, in the machine, on the clothesline or drying rack, in the basket waiting to be folded, folded in the basket and waiting to be put into drawers. It’s never ending. And that’s the laundry part. Consider the food part. The scheduling part. The hygiene part. Eighty nails to clip each week, my own not included. And through it all the breathing and the genuine calm which I find (most of the time) to get us all up and over the bumps and falls and unexpected turns.

Every day is an adventure. I feel myself constantly called on to excel, to dig into depths of strength previously untapped. It’s full-body and full-mind exhausting, and empowering. Just to make it through the day.

This morning we had friends over to play. Next up: lunch (leftovers? something on just-thawed loaf of bread?). Then dance camp for AB, 5 years, and so in love with dancing. This afternoon is her special last-day performance. I’m taking the other kids to spend the time in between drop-off and recital to Grandma’s house to play (me too). Grandma’s coming to the recital too. Then we pick up our weekly installment of food from the buying club, an amazing weekly event conceived and organized by my friend and neighbour, Nina, who is obsessed with local food and farming and farmers and has a total calling for this work. We are endlessly blessed by her obsession, and it has made eating local very easy. Her latest success is arranging for local pasta to be made with local wheat. She even has local farmers growing hard wheat so we can make almost completely local bread. I’m thawing a package of local hamburger for our supper tonight; again, from Nina’s buying club. Sometimes our fridge runs a little low on supplies, but I’m trying to make do till the next buying club or CSA box.

Still watching the Olympics. Canada has yet to medal, but I don’t really care. It seems so pleasantly Canadian, somehow. All these hard-working dedicated athletes breaking personal bests … how could I possibly be disappointed by their efforts? It feels like I’m not alone in that support, and that’s what I LOVE about Canada.

Okay, time to heat up leftovers, slice bread, call children to eat!

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