Archive for July, 2009
Highwood Crossing produces some great organic local stuff that Calgarians need to get behind. We’ve switched over to their cold-pressed organic canola oil as an alternative to extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil, as you can imagine, is not a product native to Canada, and it usually ships in from a long, long way away. Why generate such a big carbon footprint when there’s a better quality local product available. Highwood’s canola oil tastes a million times better than the standard extra virgin olive oil you’d find at the grocery store and it’s not that much more – about $14 for a large bottle. It’s getting trendy and rightly so – I’ve seen it used in several high end local restaurants in salads, on grilled asparagus and similar things. Good choice!
Also at Highwood Crossing is the tastiest granola I’ve ever purchased. It tastes like homemade. What more do you need?
Some mornings the usual breakfast foods like cereal and toast just don’t cut it. Some days call for a treat. I love making muffins or pastries for breakfast on weekend mornings. It’s a special thing to use your food imagination at the beginning of the day to match the flavours you’re craving.
Today, for me, a beautiful ripe peach sitting in the fruit basket on the kitchen counter plus reading a recipe for apricot muffins in my favourite breakfast time cookbook from Four Sisters Inns was inspiration enough. Here’s my adaptation on that recipe.
1 medium peach, chopped
1 cup of fresh or frozen raspberries
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds
1 cup flour (or gluten free flour mix)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg (recipes always call for tiny amounts of spices like nutmeg. I always add in way more than they suggest)
1/2 cup plain yogurt (add more if the batter is too thick)
Mix peaches, raspberries and lemon juice together in a small bowl. In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar and egg, beating well. Add in fruit mixture along with pumpkin and flax seeds. Combine dry ingredients and add, alternating with yogurt. Don’t stir too much. If the batter is too thick, add an extra spoon or two of yogurt. Fill muffin tins and bake for about 20 minutes at 350F.
Over the past year we’ve made a conscious choice to shift our purchasing patterns and lifestyle choices to align with the very intelligent movement around food that is unprocessed, ethical, local, organic and seasonal. In other words, real food. It’s sad and crazy that our North American culture has leaned so far in the wrong direction when it comes to industrial, unsustainable food production practices, not to mention the fact that we as consumers continue to put these products into our bodies and then wonder why health care costs, cancer rates, obesity, fatigue, stress and many other diseases and symptoms plague our society.
The main thing we changed was to drastically reduce our use of traditional grocery stores like Safeway, Sobeys, Superstore etc. Our routine now includes a weekly trip to the Calgary Farmer’s Market, a weekly order from Spud and occasional visits to Planet Organic for staples we can’t find at those other locations. Sunnyside Market is also conveniently located for picking up last minute items and fresh produce. We still make a trip to Safeway once in a while, but it’s less than once a month and it’s starting to seem more and more unnecessary. We’re also growing some of our own food. We have a tiny yard, so it’s not much, but every handful of fresh herbs and plate of salad that we harvest from the deck brings huge satisfaction – it tastes amazing and reinforces what we’re trying to do.
Slowly but surely we’re filling our cupboards and fridge with local foods instead of products that are shipped from thousands of miles away. I’m sure we’ve never been healthier. We’re eating better and we’re cooking better, inspired by more interesting ingredients. I’m thrilled to part with an extra dollar or two knowing that more of my money is going into the local economy and into the hands of a producer who actually cares about the quality of the food we’re eating and is also investing their time, money and effort into creating a more sustainable food system.
I’m still learning about strawberries. I purchased a small package of them last year for a hanging basket. I’d read somewhere that you should pinch back the flowers of strawberry plants during their first year, so I did this and only harvested a handful of berries. In the fall, I planted the strawberries in a small patch of dirt along the sunny, west facing spot along fence; small shoots also went in a couple of spots in our front yard. I mulched the strawberry plants heavily for the winter, and when spring came one of the first signs of life was these three bits of strawberry. The largest clump along the fence is flourishing and now has numerous flowers that I hope will turn into delicious berries. The two tiny shoots are both in shadier spots, but they’re coming along nicely. I was so encouraged by their early, healthy start that I purchased more strawberry plants this spring. Two were planted in a sunny spot under the large cherry tree in our backyard, but they’ve unfortunately already met their demise at the hands of the hungry (and destructive!) squirrels that live in our backyard. I also have a cute little strawberry pot stuffed with plants on our toasty warm south-facing backyard deck. I can’t bring myself to pinch off the flowers on any of the new ones, even after seeing how healthy last year’s plants look after having done so. I will do some more research on this question of pinching back the flowers of new plants in the first year. For now, I’m too keen on living in the moment and enjoying some fresh berries this year to do the deed!
The plants in our yard will probably only yield a few small handfuls of berries. There are a number of U-Pick berry and vegetable farms in the Calgary area and I’m interested in making a trip out to harvest some strawberries for snacking, baking, salads and maybe jam if I’m feeling really ambitious. During our last trip to Victoria I experienced the most amazing strawberry-rhubarb jam with my toast when we had breakfast at the Blue Fox Cafe – still can’t get it out of my head and I’m keen to try to make my own.
Tonight was one of those nights when I had to fight the urge to opt out of making dinner. We have an a couple of really good takeout options nearby that offer real food on the quick (the delicious handmade burritos with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, cilantro and fresh tortillas at Si Senor in Calgary’s Kensington neighbourhood are a particular favourite). But we try to reserve take out as a treat for the truly exhausted days only. I was just feeling lazy today, so there was no reason not to cook.
I decided to make a “whatever’s in the fridge” creation. This is actually my favourite way to cook. As long as you’ve got a few things, the result is usually pretty good, and more so because it’s something new and unexpected. We had potatoes and a bit of asparagus from last weekend’s trip to the farmer’s market, and we received a gorgeous bundle of rainbow chard from Hotchkiss Farms courtesy of this week’s order from Spud. There are lots of herbs growing on the deck and we also had asiago cheese from Springbank Cheese Company. I had the idea of a gratin in my head so I ran with that. It was a complete success – so delicious! Here’s the recipe. It’s perfect on its own for a simple supper. You could also serve it as a side dish with grilled fish and salad for something more substantial.
Rainbow chard potato bake
Slice potatoes into thin rounds and pile into a microwave / oven safe baking dish (I used a 12″ round Corningware dish). The potatoes should fill the dish about halfway (4-5 medium potatoes). Microwave them for 10 minutes to soften while you’re chopping the other vegetables.
Finely chop one small to medium sized onion and 2-3 cloves of garlic. Saute with a splash of oil until onion is soft. Add in 1 cup chopped mushroom and continue cooking until mushrooms are soft and onion is golden brown. Pour in 1 cup of white wine (or 1/2 cup wine and 1/2 cup of water if you’d rather drink more of the wine) to deglaze the pan. Cook for a minute or two until everything has bubbled together. Add in 1 cup of asparagus chopped into 2″ pieces and 3 cups of coarsely chopped rainbow or swiss chard. Cook for 2-3 minutes until chard has wilted. Stir in 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley, oregano and thyme). Pour vegetables over potatoes, season with fresh ground pepper and mix together.
Top potato mixture with 1/2 cup grated asiago cheese (cheddar or gouda would probably also be great) and sprinkle some fresh chives over top of the cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 375F.