Category: Local Food

Local Food Round-Up

January. Time to start eating out of our stores, in earnest. Don’t want to come to spring and discover some cache of forgotten and uneaten beets. Here’s what’s in our black freezer: a few roasts and steaks, hamburger, pork and turkey sausage, a whole chicken, turkey parts, and a lot of chopped red peppers. In the white freezer: big bags of tomatoes, strawberry jam, strawberries, frozen pear and applesauce cubes for school lunches, homemade ketchup, raspberries. In the fridge freezer: dill, parsley, basil cubes, more pearsauce cubes, poultry gizzards and livers, cookie dough, peas, bread. In the cold cellar: two butternut squash, loads of potatoes (storing well in their paper sacs), garlic (also storing well, loose on wire shelves), one pumpkin, four cabbages, a handful of yams. In another cupboard upstairs: what’s left of the onions (note: my pantyhose storage method in our over-warm basement was a recipe for rotting onions suspended in nylon. Not pretty. A few survived to tell the tale and be made into onion soup). In jars: grape juice, pearsauce, grape jelly, and tomatoes. Plus we’ve got lots of local oats, flour, cornmeal, honey, maple syrup, and vinegar. We also have lots of local canola oil, but I find the taste too strong, overwhelming even in baking, and am unlikely to use it up.

The challenge: To eat as exclusively as possible from these stores till it’s all gone.

The method: Thaw at least one big meat item per week and plan at least one meal around that. Remind myself about the potatoes … to that end, look up some hearty winter recipes. Sunday evening advance planning.

Today’s Recipe of the Week: Tomato Sauce. Saute chopped onions and garlic in olive oil till soft, add some chopped red peppers if desired (frozen fine). Toss in a bag of frozen tomatoes (3.7 litre capacity). Add a can of tomato paste. Season with frozen basil cubes, parsley, 1 to 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon each of thyme and oregano. Pepper to taste. When cooked down to desired consistency, stir in a dollop of vinegar.

Suggested uses: We ate this for supper, as is, over spaghetti with parmesan and feta, and a cabbage salad on the side. Tomorrow it might be resurrected with fried hamburger and some cumin and ground coriander over brown rice. Leftovers might also find their way on to homemade pizzas later in the week.

This week’s meat: smoked turkey sausage, currently thawing in our fridge. I’d planned to use it in a split pea soup, but just noticed there are no potatoes on this week’s menu, which makes me think … smoked sausage baked over potatoes and yams? Suddenly, I’m yearning for a little after-dinner nap. Full disclosure: I prefer vegetarian fare, but beans and legumes are hard to come by, locally. Meat, however, is everywhere.

Most surprising storage discovery: The red peppers are amazing. I’d run out patience by the time I put them up, so literally chopped and seeded them and chucked them into yogurt containers. But they’re easy to remove piece by piece, the flavour is amazing, and the kids eat them like popsicles.

One last note: For anyone missing Nina’s buying club, I’ve tried out and can recommend Oakridge Acres (http://www.oakridgeacres.ca/), a farm family from near Ayr who raise Black Angus cattle, and also source and sell a variety of local products, including cheeses, and who deliver to the Waterloo region.

Ahh, The Warm Glow of Self-Improvement

Haven’t stopped thinking about the New Year, and inevitably that means self-improvement. Right? It’s funny how at the stroke of midnight on the 365th day of the year, we pretend collectively that the slate has been wiped clean and we can Be Better. Except we’re just ourselves. Except that shouldn’t be an except or a just, because we’ve earned all of that grime and all of those scratches, and who would want to be wiped clean, really? That would be a recipe for unchecked narcisism.

Some thoughts on our family’s carbon footprint. Last year we went down to one vehicle, I started hanging laundry even off-season, did some canning, and attempted to source and eat local food. We also managed to lower our water consumption, but that was probably the new efficient toilets. Our electricity bill continues to climb; we moved in five and a half years ago, and every year we’ve consumed more electricity, not less. We have added family members during that time, but it’s no excuse. So this year, I’d like to do an energy audit, figure out where we’re leaking electricity and staunch the flow, train the kids to turn out the lights every time they leave a room, and continue to do many of the things we’ve started: walk as much as possible; hang the laundry; do more canning and preserving this coming summer; continue to buy local and cook from scratch. There must be other actions we could take, too, that I’m not thinking of right this second.

To add to that, here is a fantasy goal: I’d love to rid my cupboards of any prepared food that I could actually make myself. ie. no more boxed cereal, only homemade granola. Crackers? Bread, of course. Cookies, yes. Butter? Not unless we source our milk off-grid. Will it happen? Unlikely. But it’s a dream.

Some other random things I’ve been contemplating doing …

Smugness, begone! (Have I become a “Smug Married”? This thought has plagued me, slightly, over the holidays. All the things we consume, how full our house is of comfortable objects, how satiated we are. How much I don’t want to give up these comfortable things …).

Childcare … I’ve been thinking that I might enjoy caring for other people’s children during the day, or exchanging childcare. This is less fully-formed-thought than persistent notion. It would also be a good goal to have one day per week with nothing extra in it, one day just to hang out at home, read, play, nap, bake (with children, I mean). On the other hand, accepting that there is no Normal, that the day is bound to be broken in many ways by many unexpected occurrences, is really good for the sanity. You can’t have a household of six people and expect even one day to run according to Plan. So–flexibility. Going with the flow.

Embracing cliches.

Continuing to write. Think about how to get back to Nicaragua again–and for how long? Maintain and nurture the good things we’ve got going, but stay critical. Not complacent.

And next post, tell a good story rather than preach.

Christmas Day

We ate, and we ate, and we ate.

For breakfast, sticky buns with pecans. Homemade. Oh, the butter.

For lunch … well, there was no lunch. There was snacking on oranges from the stockings, chocolate from the stockings, candy from the stockings. What was Santa thinking?

And then, there was a late afternoon simple feast. One 19-pound turkey (from Nina’s buying club) survived my first attempt at roasting turkey. Bread stuffing on the side. Wild rice and barley casserole with turnips and sweet potatoes. Organic greens with grated carrot, apples, sunflower seeds, and honey/balsamic dressing. Homemade pumpkin pie for dessert.

This was the most Christmassy-feeling Christmas in awhile, and the children and their excitement and participation were a huge part of that. Albus and Apple-Apple’s sweet and thoughtful gifts. Waiting, then running downstairs yesterday morning together to see whether Christmas had come. Working on the 1,000 piece puzzle. Just holing up together with warmth and food while snow fell. Music. Piano playing and singing. Retelling the nativity story. Peaceful sleep. Sledding with friends on Christmas day. Jammies all day. Napping.

Prorogue, and Other Words You Didn’t Think You’d Need to Know

Calm morning with Fooey and her playdate actually playing together, while CJ napped long and hard (he woke at 6am crying, perhaps from a nightmare, and couldn’t settle after that). I cooked a tomato sauce for supper and shopped online. I keep meaning to blog about our attempts to continue to source local food without the help of our summer CSA box, and Nina’s buying club, but truthfully, I haven’t been able to find satisfactory replacement. It feels very cobbled-together. As mentioned before, I often order groceries online for delivery (for a modest fee), but the supplier isn’t particularly locally-oriented. The main pull of that service is the delivery of bulk items not easily hauled home in the stroller, not to mention the convenience. It’s a huge time-saver. Aside from that, we’ve been using the Saturday Kitchener market as a local-food source; but when Kevin’s working on the weekend that’s not feasible (no, I’m not heroic enough to take the bus with four children to the market in order to haul home fresh meat, carrots, eggs, and cheese!!!). I also frequent our local organic store, Eating Well, in uptown Waterloo; but they don’t always carry local foods either. The big grocery store within walking distance has improved recently, often labelling local produce as such. There should be a variety of local vegetables still available despite the cold weather … hot house tomatoes and cucumbers; those tough greens; carrots, potatoes, beets, turnips, cabbages, winter squashes, onions, leeks (??), help me out here, I know there are more. Parsnips, sweet potatoes.

Cold cellar update: The onions we so carefully stored this summer did not all survive … we lost a few to rot. I think the basement is too warm for their liking (they aren’t in the cold cellar because they aren’t supposed to be stored with potatoes, which we have in abundance–those are doing fine). We also have a whack of garlic stored in there, and a giant pumpkin that needs dealing with.

But, really, what’s on my mind tonight is this parliamentary crisis. I actually started to feel anxious about it tonight. I fear Stephen Harper’s ruthlessly divisive nature, and worry he will say and do anything to stay in power, even if it means inflaming incendiary tensions between fellow citizens–gee, not “even if”; I think for him that’s a means to an end. Right now, he’s painting a whole bunch of people (the majority of voters who voted) as commies and separatists, and claiming a coalition government would be illegal. It’s not. It’s not necessarily a great idea, but that doesn’t make it illegal. It’s hard to imagine this unlikely coalition coming together without being goaded into action by Harper’s tragic personal flaw, which is his utter lack of grace. He couldn’t quite believe the election hadn’t handed him a majority. And he behaved as if it had. Instead of seeking common ground between parties and creating stability (in everyone’s best interest, including his own), he kicked a little sand.

I thought I’d be all for this coalition; but I’m not, exactly (not exactly against it, either; horribly waffling). I think they’ll have a tough time getting along with each other, which will make it hard to create and sell coherent policy, and that could really turn citizens against the left. It would require us all to be quick studies in how coalition governments work (likely messier than what we’d become accustomed to with that string of majorities), and I’m guessing Canadians won’t have the patience for that, what with this full-blown “Global Economic Crisis.” (Is anyone else really really sick of that phrase?).

My best-case scenario would be that this stagnation jumpstarts the move toward proper proportional representation–genuine electoral reform. And that Stephen Harper steps aside as leader, say, tomorrow, and the Conservatives present us with someone who is conciliatory, gracious, and eager to work with opposition parties. If the infuriated, abusive, downright frothing at the mouth Conservative MPs I’ve been hearing on the radio are representative, that’s a fantastically tall order. (Jim Baird??? James Moore?? Even Tony Clement sounded like he might blow a gasket). I hear Jim Prentice is the best they’ve got.

The coalition has gotten along in theory and in practice so far; but let’s be brutally honest, the divisions are plenty, the Liberals are in the midst of a leadership race; it would be crazy hard to pull off long-term. If Harper doesn’t personally step aside, they’re the best chance we’ve got for stability, and they should have the chance, but … Yah. I’m a little anxious. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. It seems to be changing by the minute.

The good news is that the American ambassador to Canada (Wilkins) doesn’t even plan to brief his president (W.) on these goings-on; so it’s small potatoes in a world of crisis.

What We Ate

Yesterday we had a feast. It was all about timing, and I did spend the better part of the day preparing food. Luckily, I realized, in the nick of time, that the pies would need to be baked before the chickens. Kevin’s sister helped whenever she passed through the kitchen–mashing potatoes, extracting cooked pumpkin from its shell, et cetera. But as evening approached, I began to panic that the children would, in their hunger and impatience, literally climb the living-room walls, waiting for the chickens to reach optimum cooking temperature. Chickens surpassed expectation, thermometer rose, and we had dinner on the table at six o’clock sharp. Baby CJ got to try mashed pumpkin (a so-so review, I’d say). The chicken was succulent; the stuffing delicious; the brussel sprouts edible (Kevin’s mom loved them, but I must say they could have been better–perhaps parboiled or roasted a tad longer); the salad of local bitter greens with honey-balsamic dressing and chopped apples and seeds stunning (am I allowed to say this about food I’ve prepared myself?), and the smashed potatoes with garlic very yummy indeed. Yams snuck onto the menu all by themselves–they were in amongst the potatoes from our CSA box, and were pale in colour, white when uncooked and a delicate yellow cooked, and I assumed them to be odd-shaped potatoes, overgrown fingerlings, and only upon chopping them realized they must be something else. Good old yams. At the last minute, I scrounged up a bag of frozen cranberries and cooked that down into a quick sauce with sugar and water. So easy, but it added the finishing touch–tang and colour. 

Sitting down before this feast, I realized that my cooking is best described as “rustic” or “plain.” The sauces are never smooth. Nothing is perfectly whipped. Food tastes like the simple ingredients from which it is made. The pumpkin pie, for example, was made with pumpkin scraped out of the shell (roasting it whole worked wonderfully), mixed as was with the other ingredients, and poured into the crust to bake. The resulting pies were not pudding-like or pureed in texture, but you could taste pumpkin. You knew you were eating pumpkin. This is also the food I like to eat.

Food, Not For Thought

Today’s our Thanksgiving feast. I’m keeping it simple. Right now, I’m roasting a whole smallish pumpkin (CSA) in the oven, because, gosh darnit, my kids want a pie, and I’m going to try. We also have two chickens, six pounds, and seven pounds, respectively, thawing in the fridge, which I plan to stuff with a traditional bread stuffing (chopped apples tossed in for fun), and roast according to my Joy of Cooking recipe. Lots of salt rubbed on the skin, shallow pan, breast up. It’s going to smell good in here. Additionally, I’m planning on boiling, then roasting some brussel sprouts, if Kevin finds some good local ones at the market. Boiled, smashed potatoes (CSA) with garlic and butter and mmm. Perhaps a balsamic-honey-dressed green salad, depends on what Kevin finds at the market; apparently “spring” mix is newly seasonal right now.

Am I forgetting something? The squash will be in the pie, assuming that works out.

Baby CJ got his six-month immunizations yesterday and has been ever so fussy. On top of his stuffed nose, he’s pretty miserable, poor bab. He spent the night cuddled in our bed, again, nursing off and on. This is beginning to take a toll on my dewy-fresh complexion … Yes, I’ll blame it on that.

Kevin’s family has arrived. Everyone is off to market, except for napping baby CJ and me (for some reason, he’s happy to nap in his crib during the day; it’s only at night that he wakes instantly and screams and hollers upon being extracted from a loving parent’s arms).

To offer an update on Nina’s buying club: It remains alive, popular, and subversive. Who knows, it may be a catalyst to change local food policy and by-laws in exciting ways in the coming months and years. Meantime, it sounds like we will continue to be able to buy at least some of our food through Nina, though today, for the first time in at least a month, we had our groceries delivered by Grocery Gateway (that sounds decadent, but hear me out: none other than George Monbiot, author of Heat, advocates online shopping and delivery, more efficient than each of us hopping into our individual vehicles and tooling around town picking up one item here, and one item there. The delivery cost is $10). Generally, I wait to make the Grocery Gateway order till some heavy things have piled up on my list, which would be difficult to transport all at once in the jogging stroller (aka my shopping cart/bundle buggy).

Thanks for your support re this weekend’s familial turmoil. An update on the subject may or may not be forthcoming, depending on how confessional my mood becomes. Today I’m focussed on cooking and hosting, good and occupying tasks. Just remembered what menu item I’d forgotten: YAMS! They didn’t arrive at buying club yesterday, and I neglected to add them to my market list. Too bad. Baby CJ probably could have tasted a smackerel too. Maybe I’ll save out a bit of pumpkin to mash and cool and serve to him. So far he’s eaten nothing but expressed breastmilk mixed with brown rice cereal. Pumpkin/squash is a pretty safe early food, right? Allergenically-speaking?

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