The Paradox of the Nanaimo Bar

The most evil of industrial foods?

They looked soooo good.  And what a bargain! According to the label, I was looking at 1.48 kilograms (more than 3 lbs!) of Traditional Nanaimo Bars:”delicious, creamy pastry filling generously layered on top of a traditional chocolate and coconut base and covered with velvety smooth chocolaty topping” for all of $7.99!

I was standing in the “bakery” section of Superstore, your basic mass warehouse-supermarket chain where nothing has seen anything resembling a bakery in days.  I had not taken leave of my environmental ethics or of my senses; I was looking for a treat.  The Skipper and I were headed off sailing for the weekend, and this time, we weren’t going to eat out at all.  I had carefully planned for 4 days of simple meals, easily prepared under sail or on the Coleman stove (found one at a garage sale fo r$2! Score!).  Pasta, salmon, salad, sandwiches, cereal, eggs, etc.  But I know that treats–both sweet and salty–are important for the morale of all sailors when confined to the small cockpit for hours each day.  All that fresh air seems to make us hungry more often, and we do more snacking and eat smaller meals than we do at home in our regular routine.  Portability and easy storage is also key, and finger foods, or foods that can be eaten with minimal cutlery straight out of the container, are most welcome when everything is sliding about on the waves.

So I felt nothing but glee as I walked out the store juggling my giant cardboard box of fake “chocolaty” goodness.  I knew the Skipper would be overjoyed–nanaimo bars are his favorite and rarest indulgence.  And I wasn’t going to pack ALL of them; that was the best part.  These babies could be easily frozen, and then we could take them out and savour them occasionally for weeks to come.

Over the weekend, then, we licked the chocolate-coconut crumbs from our fingers each night (and afternoon) and rolled our tongues around the slightly oily “cream” filling as we tried to eat the squares in as few bites as possible, before the heat from our hands melted the chocolate coating.  And I contemplated the paradox of the nanaimo bar.

I realized, of course, that what we were eating was an almost completely non-food product.  And most of our time is spent trying to eat nothing but real, whole food.  I wondered out loud to the Skipper, “do you think we could make a real food version of the nanaimo bar?  You know, with butter, real chocolate, etc?”

But as soon as I posed the question, I realized its futility.  You see, most of the time, the industrial food that we talk about is based on some kind of traditional dish.  Frozen pizza, chicken burgers, canned spaghetti, deli meats, string cheese….you know what I’m talking about.  Children don’t know these can be–were once always–produced from scratch in the home kitchen for hundreds of years, and most modern tastebuds don’t even recognize the original flavours.

But the nanaimo bar is a different beast.  This was a square invented by a housewife in the 1950s, and it owes its existence to the unique baking/non-baking, melting/non-melting properties of margarine.  It would cost a fortune to make these puppies from quality, organic ingredients, and the Skipper and I agreed, they wouldn’t taste at all the same.  This is not a treat of the real, it’s an industrial indulgence and should be appreciated for exactly what it is.

I recently shared my philosophy about such things in a comment on the inspiring Seattle-based blog, Sustainable Eats.  Annette was lamenting the busy start to the school year and the food shortcuts that become necessary sometimes when life gets crazy.  I could relate, but I realized that I had become far more relaxed about these moments in the last few years.  I have come to believe in an 80/20 principle.  I believe that it matters what we do MOST of the time, not what we do ALL of the time.  I think that when we first awaken to the seriousness of the crises that confront us we often head straight into panic.  We want to change everything in our lives so as not to contribute a moment longer to the troubles of the world.  But I know for me this quickly turned into a longing for purity, an attempt to create a life completely apart from the everyday evils.

In my experience, that attitude leads quickly to two things: burn out and a sense of doom.  Because it’s not possible, in any way, to escape the world as it is today.  There is no such thing as purity.  Scientists have found toxic chemicals that are only produced in one region in China deep in the most pristine Arctic permafrost ice.  Those few remaining indigenous communities in the world trying to stay true to a traditional way of life do so with the full knowledge of the alternative that is knocking at their doors.  We’re all a part of this world and all of its industrialized craziness whether we like it or not.  And if we try to escape, if we search for purity, depression, anger, and bitterness seem to be the inevitable result.

So what do I do, then?  I do the best I can, and I enjoy–with JOY being the key word–the changes I can make in those areas that are in my control.  Like growing my veggies and fruit, supporting those who are trying to produce food in sustainable ways, and campaigning actively for changes to the larger system.  But I also pay tribute from time to time to the realities and pleasure of the industrial system.  It’s evil, but it has its perks.  The way the world is going, these perks are likely to be fleeting, and they deserve, in my opinion, some appreciation for their cultural time and place.  It’s entirely possible that our grandchildren won’t ever taste a Twinkie or be able to understand what margarine is/was.

So whatever your favorite industrial indulgence, enjoy it.  Not often, and with the full recognition that you are working to eliminate it, but enjoy it–without guilt and in solidarity with your cultural community.

And then go back to what you do 80% of the time.  Which for us is eating food as real as real can be.  Like this!

Crab! Hauled by hand off our sailboat 1 km from home using the bones and scraps from our salmon filetting. Ultimate sustainability!

PS: Apparently everything I’ve just written about Nanaimo bars is a lie.  According to the City of Nanaimo website, the best recipe is made from butter, sugar, cocoa, nuts, eggs, etc. and the most industrial ingredient is Graham crumbs.  I must say those aren’t the ingredients on the label in front of me!  But we may have to test my theory and try the recipe… 🙂

Mid-August Harvest Update

I haven’t been keeping up with the Harvest Monday blogroll because I haven’t really been harvesting.  But that’s not because there’s nothing to eat!  I go out every day and collect foods for our meals, but it’s been a steady stream rather than anything that needs to be picked in quantity, weighed and then processed in some way.  It’s been a nice few weeks that way, and I suspect it’s the calm before the September storm of beans, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini…

Every week, I harvest about a pound (I think) of salad greens.  A huge head of Red Sails lettuce–it’s been AMAZINGLY tolerant of several heat waves and has yet to bolt or go bitter–some mesclun mix (which bolts regularly, but still has enough interesting peppery leaves to be a tasty addition), some small beet or chard greens that are regrowing after being cut back, and a variety of flavourful flowers like nasturtiums, borage, and calendula.  These all get washed and dried and go into an ice cream bucket in the fridge.  We go through the bucket over the week in our lunches and dinners.

We’ve been enjoying the salads fairly plain, sometimes with a bit of fresh onion or avocado (which we’re unfortunately not growing! 🙂 ).  As of last week, though, we have cherry tomatoes to add!  Yesterday I finally did collect enough Golden Nugget cherries to bother weighing: 10 oz (just over 1/2 lb).  An exciting marker.

Yesterday I was also able to collect the first bush beans.  Hurray!  As I’ve mentioned before, I planted a “tri-colour” blend, but the purple beans have been the only ones to really come to anything.  They look and taste great, though, so no complaints.  I have purple, green, and scarlet runner beans climbing the fence, so I’m not relying on the bush beans for too long.

Here was yesterday’s dinner harvest for a delicious, easy fried rice dish:

Dinner Harvest

A few underdeveloped onions, beans, carrots, huge swiss chard (white and red) leaves.  And a zucchini blossom!  Fried squash blossoms are an unpurchasable delicacy that I have wanted to try for years.  I don’t know that I’ll make one with this lovely flower, but I thought I’d pick it to nibble on anyway–delicious and surprisingly juicy!

To the other veggies I added some leftover rice, tofu and garlic.  I just layer everything in thin slices on top of some hot sesame oil (longer cookers at the bottom), add some leftover rice and tofu, put the lid on and let everything first steam in their own juices, then carmelize a little.  Add some tamari to deglaze and keep things from burning, stir, and repeat until you’re happy.  I usually add some hot sauce and a little fish sauce, and if I have cilantro and want a Thai twist, I use fish sauce instead of tamari and add fresh lime juice at the end.  Top with cashews and enjoy.  Yum!

The tomatoes we snacked on, and I think we’ll have another big salad for dinner tonight, as one of the lettuce heads looks like it’s about to consider bolting.

The jam bucket(s) in the freezer are also filling up nicely; the raspberries are exploding every day!  I picked another lb of berries last night too.

We’ll be starting to harvest our Yukon Gold potatoes this week too; the vines are dying back (though we never did get any flowers), and when we started to brush soil aside to check the tuber progress–whoa!  Huge big golden eggs just under the surface!  We’re giddy at the prospect!  Now we just have to make sure our storage is lined up, cause I think we’ve got a year’s worth of potatoes in our big patch…

So that’s my update–what’s been growing well for you this year despite the slightly wonky weather?

My Compost Pile is a Political Statement

I have pretty strong political beliefs.  And I know that I’m drawn to the idea of homesteading because of my larger worldviews on climate change, global equality issues, and corporate rule of global food systems.  But I have never thought about my garden and compost pile as political statements in and of themselves.

This weekend, though, I came across Eliot Coleman’s article in Grist Magazine called “Small is Beautiful (And Radical)”, and I’m looking at my compost pile in a whole new way.  Coleman is a bit of a cult hero in the world of small organic farming.  He’s been at it for around 30 years, and he farms year-round in Maine.  He pioneered the North American practice of using simple season extenders like cold frames and row covers, and he does most of his business in the winter, when few others are in the market.  He has also been generous and supportive of organic farmers, including newbie ones, writing book after book that reveal techniques to make organic farming on small acreages (less than 5 acres) practical and profitable enough to be a sustainable living.  He invents tools for small farmers who don’t need the big mechanized equipment that is sometimes all that is available.  He’s an impressive, if sometimes controversial, thinker.

In this article, he writes, “The radical idea behind by organic agriculture is a change in focus.  The new focus is on the quality of the crops grown and their suitability for human nutrition.  That is a change from the more common focus on growing as much quantity as possible and using whatever chemical techniques contribute to increasing that quantity.”

This paradigm shift from quantity to quality does seem to me to be pretty radical, and one that strikes me regularly.  I think that hoarding is a natural human instinct for survival–one like eating past feeling full that comes out of our reptilian brain–and I think humans do struggle to redefine value as a bargain.  This is what McDonald’s recognized with the SuperSize concept–that we will pay a little more to get a lot more even if we don’t want or eat it.  We have this drive that takes over because “value” = more for less.

Being able to redefine value as quality, and not being distracted by more for less is a radical act, especially in North American consumer culture.  But I think this radical shift is one that requires a consciousness that is not desperate for survival, which means it is an especially difficult shift for those struggling with poverty.  I think this is where the shift toward organic food is often seen as elitist; it does take a certain level of financial security–or perhaps psychological security–to be able to think about the ethics and quality of food instead of just the price.

But Coleman’s argument goes beyond this common debate.  Later in the article, he writes:

“The small organic farm greatly discomforts the corporate/industrial mind because the small organic farm is one of the most relentlessly subversive forces on the planet.  Over centuries both the communist and the capitalist systems have tried to destroy small farms because small farmers are a threat to the consolidation of absolute power.  Thomas Jefferson said he didn’t think we could have democracy unless at least 20% of the population was self-supporting on small farms so they were independent enough to be able to tell an oppressive government to stuff it.  It is very difficult to control people who can create products without purchasing inputs from the system, who can market their products directly thus avoiding the involvement of mercenary middlemen, who can butcher animals and preserve foods without reliance on industrial conglomerates, and who can’t be bullied because they can feed their own faces.”

This is the paragraph that stopped me in my tracks.  I knew that gaining food self-sufficiency meant some freedom from consuming, and some protection in case of radical social emergency.  But I had never thought about the political freedom that comes from having less to lose if I need to stand up for the causes I believe in.  That as long as my land can not be taken away from me, if I can feed myself, I know I can survive indefinitely regardless of what happens in the world around me.

In theory, the most powerful position, I think, would be a deep understanding of the natural environment that allows you to eat directly from nature, rather than needing to farm at all.  This is why learning about wild foods seems so important to me.  But I’m also deeply concerned that climate change is challenging the stability of the wild food supply (we seem to be watching the salmon disappear before our eyes here on the Pacific coast), and that some human production is always going to be necessary.

This also demonstrates the political power of land ownership, or perhaps more accurately, the political power of not being displaceable from your land.  I’ve thought a lot about the forcible displacement of First Nations peoples, especially in BC, and about how climate change will continue to cause massive population displacement and conflict because of it–as we’ve already seen in the Sudan.  But for some reason, I’ve never thought about this as being a direct issue of being able to feed ourselves.

Coleman finishes the article by claiming that compost itself is the key to this political freedom.  Compost is the magical substance that keeps the soil fertile, and homemade compost is always better than purchased stuff.  Compost connects us to the power of the natural world and closes our home and farming food production loop by turning “waste” into “resource”.  And did I mention that it’s free?  And that anyone can do it (because no one really “does” it; it just happens)?

So here’s to the lowly compost pile and the secure food supply that it produces.  And here’s to the guerilla gardeners all over the world who are producing food and compost on land they don’t own, and gaining the same freedom and independence from it.

And if you really want to see compost that blows your mind, check out Rob at One Straw: Be the Change, who’s not only producing radical compost, he’s using compost radically–including potentially to heat his home’s hot water and to produce methane for harvest.  Amazing and inspiring!

Summer Meal: Beets and Potatoes

We had company this past weekend, and for some special recipes, we picked up a liter of whipping cream.  Although we eat a lot of cheese, we don’t actually eat much other dairy, so this whipping cream has been whispering to me all week.  “What will you do with me?”  It asks each day.  “Pavlova?  Shortcake?  Chowder? Pasta?  Where will we go together?” (What? Cream doesn’t speak to you? :))

Meanwhile, back in the garden, we have beets to eat.  Beautiful greens with a few reasonable Early Wonder Tall Top beets have been waiting patiently under the ground.  Now the Skipper is fickle when it comes to beets.  He loves them pickled, he loves the greens, but he’s iffy on the bulbs themselves.  I love beets–borscht, roasted, raw grated, juice…I could go on.  Back in the spring, I wasn’t planning on planting many beets, though, just some to use for greens.  But then, in June when they started to come up so much earlier than other things, Skipper asked me why we hadn’t planted more!  So I did!

So I went looking for beet recipes, and found this beautiful beet and feta salad. We’ve got lots of feta on hand, so that was a plan.  Then I needed a starchy/proteiny thing to eat with the veggies, and I started thinking about the potatoes.  And the cream.  You can see where I’m going with this.  Yep; scalloped potatoes.  Or as the foodies refer to it: the gratin.

I looked at lots of recipes, and finally made up my own to simplify:

All the new potatoes I had in the fridge (enough for 3-4 of our usual servings–2-3 lbs?)

2 cups cream

1 onion

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

salt, pepper, and some fresh sage leaves, chopped

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

I mixed all of this together, and baked at 390 for about about 45 mins, until the potatoes were tender.  But then I thought it looked a bit plain, so I followed a tip from a French recipe and mixed an egg with a few more tablespoons of cream, a dash of salt, and some freshly grated Parmesan.  That was poured on top, and then the pan went back in the oven for 15 minutes.  I’d already turned the oven off before changing my mind, so I just put the broiler back on a few minutes later, so it got a little brown on top.

Gratin Potatoes with Souffle Topping

It was rich! (Not a surprise with those ingredients!)  But most delicious.  And went very well with the salad, which I will definitely make again and highly recommend.  I just steamed the beets, rather than roasting them, I added a little more vinegar to the dressing, and served the lukewarm beets over some salad greens.  Don’t skimp on the feta, though, as it really does transform the flavour of the beets (as goat cheese probably does too, which is another regular combination).  The Skipper gobbled up as much as he could before I grabbed the salad back for my share.  Aah..summer.

Beet Salad for Non-Beet Lovers

Simple Summer Meals

It’s been hot.  Regular 30 degree afternoons in the backyard.  I would NEVER complain about the heat per se, but it does require some adaptation.  I spend so much of the year cold that coming up with hot food ideas doesn’t seem to be a problem, but I’ve found myself a little challenged lately.  I don’t want to turn on the stove for very long, and we want to keep eating out of the garden.  I also don’t want to make anything particularly involved–I just don’t have the brain power after a long afternoon sweating over the weeds.

I went looking for new ideas online yesterday, and found this great (but old) link to Mark Bittman’s 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less article in the NY Times.   I love the simple and delicious sounding combinations–these kinds of recipes are really how we’re eating these days.  Our ingredients are so good that I don’t want to do much to them, regardless of the heat and time factors.  At the same time, you can only eat so much salad and so many sandwiches!  And lots of the Bittman recipes involve meat.  I’ve been a “pescatarian” (lacto-ovo + fish) for almost 20 years, and though the Skipper has recently declared himself “off the wagon”, we don’t cook meat at home (except for the Cowichan Bay Farm chicken sausages, which…you didn’t hear this from me…are worth veering off the road for).

So here are some of the meals I’ve been making lately:

1. Scrambled Eggs.  Not just for breakfast anymore!  I add fresh herbs and a little feta cheese, lots of ground pepper.  Great with steamed new potatoes in butter or toast, and salad.

2.  Variations on Salad Nicoise. These change with what’s available in the garden, so now it’s greens, onion, beets, tuna.  The other day we ate this with homemade potato salad: Steamed and cooled new potatoes, mayo, pickle and a bit of pickle juice, grainy dijon, pepper and a pinch of salt.

3.  Quick veggie burgers. I steamed some short grain brown rice in the afternoon, then put about 1 1/2 cups in the food processor with 1/2 can of romano beans (any soft bean or lentils will work) and 1/3 cup of toasted sunflower seeds.  After processing to desired texture (I like the rice chewy), I added 2 grated carrots, 2 T of breadcrumbs (quick oats work too), 1 egg (beaten), 1 tsp each of cumin, chili powder, oregano, 2 T or so of Tamari, and lots of pepper.  I sauteed a minced onion and lots of minced garlic and added that too (careful about adding your beaten egg to hot ingredients–it will curdle).  Mix up, add more breadcrumbs if it’s too wet, and, ideally, chill for a few hours in the fridge.  I didn’t have time, though, and they still held their shape pretty well after pan-frying.   Made about 8 patties–enough for a couple of lunches.  Served up with the usual suspects on our bread with avocado slices.  Yum!

4.  Quick stir-fries. Last night was onions, garlic, chard, and carrots sauteed with some tamari and Chinese cooking wine.  Served over basmati rice with my simplified version of the awesome Rebar peanut sauce (we didn’t have any peanut butter, so I used almond butter.  A little different, but still lick-the-bowl tasty):  1/4 cup almond or peanut butter, 2 T each honey and tamari or fish sauce, 2 minced cloves of garlic, juice of 1/2-1 lime (to taste), 1 t or so sesame oil, 1 tsp hot sauce (sirracha at our house).  These can all be stirred together in a saucepan with a little water or just whizzed in a small food processor and used at room temperature.  Delicious!

Next week if the hot temps keep up, I think I’ll venture into the cold Asian noodle salads and wraps; not usually the Skipper’s cup of tea, but just the right lightness and texture on days like these, I think.

So help me out!  What are you making simply in the kitchen these days when you don’t want to cook?

Travel Food Round-Up: Pleasure Beats Habit

Sorry to the Harvest Monday folks; as we were away this weekend, there’s not too much to report.  But I did harvest 3/4 lb of carrots and 1 1/2 lbs of peas for the trip, and I pulled up the last of the early potatoes last week, about 4 1/2 lbs.  And now that we’re back–the blueberries are ready!  So I had fresh blueberries with breakfast this morning, instead of the strawberries that have been sustaining me so far.

We had a great sailing trip, though we’ve come back tired and a little sunburnt.  In decent wind, it officially takes us 10 hrs to go from Ganges on Saltspring Island all the way around the top of the island and then back down through Samsum Narrows back home to the Cowichan Bay.  The weather was glorious, but that’s a long day.  No complaints, though!

What struck me most as I thought about food during our trip, though, was the regular dilemma that I presume we all go through: what’s the best way to change bad habits, pleasure or pain?  In other words, do we change habits naturally once we get a bigger payoff from a new, healthier habit, or do we need to hear the dire warnings and serious consequences of what happens if we don’t change?

Before we left, I joked about our travel food habits: pack lots, eat a little of it, and go to the pub.  We like going out to eat; we both have lots of pleasurable memories and love the feeling of relaxing on the patio with good beer.  We have been fish and chip connoisseurs over our lifetimes, and have enjoyed pub food (yes, we are a little quirky!).  At various times in our travels, we have blown our budget in order to go out, and not suffered for it.

Recently, though, things seem to be changing.  It’s partly a lifestyle change.  We love being at home, and we’re eating amazing flavours out of the garden.  I’m off at the moment, so I have more time to enjoy cooking, and we’re less likely to go out just because we’re tired and hungry.  Now that the weather’s great, the picnics on our own patio or on the boat are better than any other experience we can think of.  And that, I think, is going to finally break us of the pub habit.

We were well prepared for our long days of sailing, with lots of snacks, sandwich makings, and chips and other treats.  We had a couple of really enjoyable feasts on our way to Ganges–and the best parts were the peas and carrots, cherries and blueberries!  We arrived in port in the early afternoon, and had plenty of time to wander happily through the amazing Saturday market.  We treated ourselves to fudge and lemonade and some fresh mini-donuts.  We headed back to the boat to relax in the late afternoon and have a beer in the sunshine.  We got chatting to other boaters moored around us, and were having a great time.  We got hungry around 7, and as we had planned to eat out for dinner, we headed to the pub at the marina.  We figured it was Saturday night, and there was no point in walking back into town where there would be more selection–everything would be packed, and my blood sugar was dropping rapidly!

Our meal was fine.  The beer was good, the oysters were fresh, and the mains were tasty.  But the bill was high, we had as good beer in the icebox, and the view from the patio couldn’t beat the one from the cockpit.  We’ve always known that it’s a rare meal that’s better than the ones we make ourselves, and this was not an exception.  In the end, I think our tastes are simplifying, and the sheer pleasure of the picnic on the boat is going to finally overcome the pleasures of the pub in a way that all the budget warnings or other moments of dissatisfaction never did.

I get that this is what simpler living is all about.  We’ve been working on simplifying our lives for several years, with many successes.  But the missing link at times has been a level of inner fulfillment that we’re finally experiencing now.  Much of our previous simplifying has been a matter of living ethically and without ravenous consumption, as well as trying to live in a financially sensible way.  But in our last living experience, in the city condo, I actually started to feel that life had become TOO simple; we’d let go of too much that was meaningful and creative for us in the name of de-cluttering and simplifying.  That life was still too much about work and not enough about pleasure.

Here, I think we’re finally finding out what simple living is really supposed to be about.  The garden, the sailboat, the house, the small communities are so enriching our lives and giving us so much pleasure, that we are willingly walking away from the things that we used to use to compensate for or recover from the stresses that otherwise occupied our time and attention.  My hope is that as we continue on this journey, in a natural, rather than punitive way, we will continue to reduce our cost of living until we need to work fewer hours to pay for our lives.  And isn’t that what sustainable living is all about?

Travel Food

It’s official: The Skipper and I are off sailing for the weekend!  It’s a first for us together; we’ve slept aboard once before, but I didn’t actually do the sailing part.  So this time we’re sailing briefly this evening, spending the night anchored somewhere, then making our way hopefully to Ganges (Saltspring Island) on Saturday, so as to do a bit of poking about on land before heading home on Sunday.  Not much wind expected, so it will be a slow sail, but calm seas make for happier sleepers, I expect :).

So today I’m contemplating the provisions.  The Skipper and I have done a lot of camping and other traveling over these many years, and I always say, somewhat sheepishly, that we tend to travel for the weekend, pack enough food for 2 weeks, and then when we get to our destination, we head straight for the pub. 😉  After all, eating in new places is part of the reason to travel, right?  Food memories are visceral memories, and they are the ones that we revel in later–for better or worse.

Those who’ve travelled with us will know that we chart our knowledge of the small communities around the province by what we know is good to eat there: we know that the best butter tarts on the Island used to be at a cafe in Qualicum Beach, that Port Alberni has some of the best fish and chips around, that the Crofton pub is best avoided, but the Crow and Gate (as much for the ambience as the food) in Cedar is worth its own trip.

Choosing food to travel with always feels like a vacation from regular eating to me too.  It’s my big chance to re-live my junk food habits: chips, Dairy Queen, soda.  Special foods that I don’t eat in my everyday life, but that match that feeling that I’m doing something different.  The problem is, I also always end up on an expensive run to the grocery store before the trip, and then we go to the pub. 🙂

We’re keeping watch over our pennies a little more carefully at the moment, so I’m trying to think a little differently about provisioning this time.  Plus, we’re not bringing a stove (haven’t quite figured out a way to cook safely at sea yet), so that simplifies things greatly.  Our standard fare for road food is good sandwiches: good bread, good cheese, avocados and sometimes tomatoes.  We usually snack on nuts and fruit too.  I don’t think I’ll upset that routine for this trip–sandwiches are easy over the two days for lunches, and we already have nuts, some chocolate-covered almonds (you know, health food 🙂 ), and I think there are some cherries left.  We’ve got some hummus, so we just need some foods for dipping.  I’m having flashbacks to road trips with my grandparents as a child and mason jars filled with cold water and carrot and celery sticks!  I’ve got carrots waiting to be pulled, peas waiting to be harvested, and a bell pepper in the fridge–I’ll skip the celery (didn’t plant any)–and maybe I’ll use that mason jar trick.  Cereal for breakfasts, but I’ll miss my fresh picked strawberries on them!  And we’ll PLAN to hit somewhere on land for Saturday dinner.

It’s been so long since it’s been warm that I’m reveling in how little besides food there is to pack–usually I’m rolling up wool pajamas and as much fleece as I can cram in a backpack.  Not during this heat wave!  Woot!  Enjoy the July weekend, and I’d love to hear your favorite road food stories…

Summer Picnics

Summer has FINALLY arrived here on the west coast, and I couldn’t be happier.  Not only will my beans, tomatoes, peppers and squashes finally be happy, but we can start eating outside again in earnest.  Poor Skipper’s been trying to get me out in the evenings for a month, but it wasn’t much fun huddled in a sweater feeling like I was camping in March.

We’ve been eating out of the garden pretty much exclusively for the last few weeks, which is great.  One of our favorite meals on the warm days has been variations on Salad Nicoise (the c is supposed to have a do-hickey under it, but I don’t know how to do that outside of Word).  Traditionally, Salad Nicoise is a mix of new potatoes, fresh green beans, and tuna, all mixed with a garlicky vinaigrette–yum!  But we’re mixing it up with the ingredients we have on hand.

First up was the mix of purple and white new potatoes with blanched peas, salad greens (lettuce, mesclun, beet greens), spring onions/scallions, all with a sprinkle of herbs, capers and feta cheese.  The dressing is lemon juice, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, garlic, salt and pepper, and then as much olive oil as you like.  Voila!  Delicieux.

Spring Salad Nicoise!

I’m starting–I know, I’m a little slow sometimes! :)– to clue into the fact that many traditional or classic recipes DO in fact use ingredients that are available, ie harvesting, at the same time.  We’re eating an early variety of potato right now, far earlier than our green beans will be ready, but when the first bush beans are ready next month (hopefully!), there should also be new potatoes ready from the main crop.  We had the same meal a couple of nights later, only this time without the peas and added a can of local smoked albacore tuna.  Fabulous.

The second meal came out of the 10 POUNDS of fava beans that I harvested yesterday afternoon.  I had simply decided that the plants needed to come out, so I spent the afternoon chopping up the huge stalks and picking off the best beans (there were lots more I let go).  It’s a pretty good harvest from seedlings that I stuck in the ground last September, with no idea what they might come to!

I went looking for recipes, and found one classic Italian one for fava, artichoke, and pecorino (sheep’s cheese) salad.  I thought that sounded like a tasty combination–and also spoke to how favas are really a summer crop, ready when the artichokes are (also now-ish and into later summer) not an overwintering spring one as I had hoped.  I thought the salad would work well as a pasta salad for dinner, and might work even better as picnic food.

Here’s what I came up with:

Late Spring Garden Pasta Salad

Ingredients:  1 lb? Shelled fresh fava beans

1 lb pasta–shells that the beans will tuck into work well

Olive oil

Zest and juice from 1 lemon

1 head green garlic (the garlic bulbs you pull up now that haven’t cured yet)

3 sizeable spring onions, or several scallions

1 cup chopped artichoke hearts (cooked fresh, canned, or marinated)

1/2 cup ? of feta cheese, or pecorino, or other hard salty cheese

salt and pepper to taste, any herbs that might be tasty–chives, parsley…

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Add favas and blanch for a minute or two, until the skins start to split.  Pull them out with a strainer/slotted spoon, and dunk them in a bowl of cold water.  Add the pasta to the boiling water and boil until desired doneness (a little underdone means the warm pasta will soak up the salad dressing).

Taste the favas with their skins on and decide if they need to be shelled again.  Really young fresh favas are usually fine with the skins, but as they mature, the skins get bitter.  Squeeze the green insides out of the skins if necessary; they will usually pop right through the split skins after being blanched.

When the pasta is done, drain and return the pot to low heat.  Add oil, then the chopped onions and green garlic and lemon zest and herbs and fava beans.  Rinse the pasta if you like to cool it a bit, then add to the beans in the pot.  Add chopped artichoke hearts, lemon juice, cheese, salt and pepper, and more olive oil.  Stir and let sit for a few minutes, then stir again and taste, adding more seasonings as necessary.  The pasta will take up the salt and dressing, so the whole thing may need more lemon juice, oil, and seasoning after it sits for a few minutes.  Enjoy warm, cool, or cold.

We packed up our salad, added some leftover olives, mixed up a jar of the Skipper’s famous C G and Ts (gin and tonics with lots of lime and a healthy shot of unsweetened cranberry juice), and headed down to the boat.  It was a glassy evening on the water, so we motored over to a small cove, and set anchor to eat.  Bliss!

Ahh summer...
Pasta Salad Picnic

There was enough of a puff of wind to sail leisurely home across the bay.  Summer took a long time to arrive, but we’re making the most of every gorgeous moment!

Happy Canada Day!

Yep. It’s a day off, so no reflections today. Quick harvest update from yesterday, though:

1 lb 6 oz Black Currants
7 lbs Purple Potatoes
1 lb 5oz Assorted Peas
1 lb Greens (chard, beet, spinach)
1 lb Raspberries

Dessert last night: raspberries simmered into syrup and poured over ice cream, topped with crunched up chocolate-covered almonds. Red and white for Canada Day 🙂 .

Life is good.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Ok, so my mom doesn’t really want to celebrate her birthday, but given that I recently celebrated Dads, I really don’t think it would be fair for this day to pass without comment, especially because my mom is the reason for my passion for food (and hence, for the existence of this blog).

My mom learned to cook at a very young age, and food and cooking became a large part of her adult life.  She worked in food service for many years, including co-owning and operating a small deli, and completed a degree in Home Economics, with a strong component of food biology and nutrition.  She did all of these things when my sister and I were small (and then older) children, so her work and attitude toward food provided formative experiences for me.

Some of my earliest memories are in kitchens, at home, but also in the institutional kitchens that seemed the most amazing places to me.  As kids, we peered over the sides of Hobart mixers bigger than we were and marveled at the dough hooks  churning through huge vats of dough and batter.  After long evenings catering events, Mom would bring home trays of leftover dainty petit fours and sandwiches.  Quite the midnight snacks!  I remember happy hours spent spreading jam over cubic yards of sponge cake to be rolled up into English trifle (still one of my favourite comfort foods), and stirring soup simmering over low gas flames.

Mom was convinced that knowing how to cook was an essential life skill, and like all essential life skills, training started early.  When I look at other people’s children now, I can understand why my grandparents were always a little nervous watching  my sister and I stand on step stools to reach the kitchen counters so that we could help chop vegetables with very sharp knives!  We learned to pick strawberries from the field, pick cherries and peaches from the trees, and to pick blackberries off the thorny bushes.  Food was important and working hard to get it was just fine.

Growing up in the city meant that it was hard to build confidence and a sense of achievement in the way my husband did–out in the woods unsupervised–and it was in the kitchen that we learned that we could make valuable contributions to our family by helping, that we could gradually deal with more complex tasks and instructions, and that both we and food were very important.

These experiences shaped my relationships with my parents and extended family, and they made the kitchen a safe place for me.  The kitchen is the place I go to relax, to have fun, to be creative, and to be ok when the world feels like it is not.  And, thanks to my mom, those feelings as an adult have always been channeled into cooking healthful food for me and my friends and family, rather than into emotional eating of junk food like so many other women.

Lastly though, I think my mom’s greatest food gift to me and my sister–though I don’t know how much of a conscious issue it was at the time–was to teach us what real food tastes like and to be interested in where it comes from.  Food in our home was made from scratch, and that was a priority.  If time was scarce–and both of my parents worked full time, so time was of course scarce–we simply all needed to help to make the meal happen.  And while my sister and I certainly went through phases of picky eating (I remember distinctly wanting one week to only eat broccoli tops, and then the next week only wanting to eat the stems 🙂 ), as adults we have absorbed the consistent messages and values that my parents wanted us to learn: that food is a gift to be treasured and given often, that food is a lifelong adventure, and that life is never too busy and complicated to cook real food.  And if life ever does start preventing you from eating properly, then life needs to change!

In our family, food is a barometer of every aspect of health: spiritual, physical, emotional, social, cultural.  As such, it needs careful tending and attention, and through food, the other aspects of life also receive their due.  This is one of my mom’s most powerful legacies to her children, and I know we are grateful for it.  Especially when someone visits my garden and tastes a strawberry and says, “That’s not what strawberries from the store taste like!”

Thanks Mom.  Have a wonderful day!