Tuesday, March 29, 2011

100 mile Challenge vs the 100 ft Challenge

You hear a lot of talk these days about the 100 mile Challenge.  Someone told me a few years back about it (since we haven't had cable or satellite in years), they had seen it on the Food Network.  By purchasing items that were produced within a 100 mile radius, we would gloablly reduce carbon emissions by a drastic amount!  I was intrigued. 

I checked out the Food Network's website on the matter.  I've included the link for anyone one else who is curious about this global phenomenon.  It is quite a cool site!  It includes a list of what food are seasonally available.  There is also a meal planner and recipes too!  Their community is wide and varied...as showcased in their blog.  Also, it seems the idea has spun into a show too...there are episodes you can view of the families who have volunteered for the challenge.   

For the past few year,  I have consciously sought out local (or at least closer) items.  Its challenging in itself...as some labels are misleading.  Some say "packaged for distribution in Ontario", which is vague and doesn't tell you where it was actually grown.  I especially like it when the label includes the address of the producers.  The March issue of Harrowsmith Country Life had a large article about Food Fraud.  What that means is that people have been latching on to this closer-to-home phenomenon and taking advantage of gullible consumers.  Big food stores say they purchase from local producers...but then define local as anywhere in Canada.  (anyone who's ever driven from Nova Scotia to BC knows thats not really local in the generic sense of the word)  It takes a bit more effort and time to make those informed decisions, but its well worth it.  The more we buy stuff from off shore, the less we'll see those farms along country roads.  Its that simple. 

I like my cheese from Wilton cheese factory (a 20 min drive from the factory) or Ivanhoe in a pinch.  Luckily both are sold in several Verona stores.  The Ivanhoe factory is in Belleville, a 40 kms drive.  My milk is from Reids dairy, also a Belleville commodity.  My meat comes from either the famer's market here in Verona or the Local Family Farms store (also in Verona).  An important connection you should try to foster is between you and the person responsible for your food.  I'm working on getting a local egg supplier...but my husband still says we should just house our own chickens.     

I think that the 100 mile Challenge is also a contributing factory as to why I garden so whole-heartedly.  Its the closest I can do my grocery shopping!  Why pay big store prices when you can step out of your back (or front) door? 

Honestly, do you want your food to come from the other side of the world, and packaged in an environment like the one shown below?

Food production in China

Call me crazy, but I prefer the environment shown below:

Food production in my backyard
I understand that gas prices are not going down any time soon...so that means prices on everything we use and need will be much more in the future.  I would much rather learn to provide for myself, than depend on weather conditions in Mexico for my sustinance.  On a primal level, it just seems absurd. 

The more I learn, the more I grow.  The more I grow, the more I cook.  The more I cook, the more I learn.  Its cyclical!

I urge everyone to try the 100 mile challenge...or better yet, the 100 foot challenge!

I recently took a poll of my Facebook friends...and so far around 23 folks have said they plan to grow something this year.  People from all walks of life, urban or rural, house or apartment are growing!

I urge you all to try and grow something....or if you can't grow (that's called a black thumb)...make friends with a relative or neighbour who does....chances are, they will grow too much of something and you can partake in the goodness!


Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Sugar Shack

When we found out our neighbour's son had never been to a sugar shack...we HAD to go.  Not like we weren't going to go on March Break anyway...that just increased the imperative!  We MUST go!

I always enjoy a good stroll through the sugar bush.  Its something so uniquely Canadian.  Its something so seasonal.  I had read all about the settler's experience with the sugar bush in Suzanna Moody's book "Roughing it in the Bush".  It was in the 1830's when settlers were shown the wonders of the sweet water that flowed in the early spring from certain maples.  It was the Irish immigrant workforce that had the patience to try this task at home.  A grueling few cold nights spent stoking the fire and stirring, stirring, always stirring for fear it would smoke out the landowners home in sulphury clouds.  It was a labour of love, for each person to try a piece of maple sugar or real maple syrup...are rarely ever the same after.  This was before mass production and super markets full of ready to eat items.  Maple syrup was a treat only enjoyed once a year...and I try to impart that on my kids today.  Its the only time I indulge in maple sugar and the sugar shack syrup always tastes better after a cool hike in the woods.

A beautiful day in the woods...the kids always let their spring fever loose!
We hike to the sugar shack at the Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation area in Kingston through a winding trail...happy to be outdoors after what feels like a lifetime of freezing cold windy days.  The boys enjoy a nice reprieve from winter's friend, cabin fever. 

On cold sunny days, the sap runs fast!

Owen is introduced to the sweet water....big brother Noah makes sure the whole arm doesn't go in.....

A history lesson in nature with a tasty ending....what more could you ask for??? 

Can you imagine the time and effort this stuff used to take???

Now a days, the sugar shack is a bit more industrialized...

Hundreds of pancakes served up each minute...they had it down to a fine science...a well-oiled machine!

Served up with equal amounts of whipped local butter

And a look of satisfaction that no store-bought toy, video game device or mass produced food item could provide...mmmmm...

PS.  all four boys (ranging in age of 4 yrs to 13 yrs) were very quiet on the drive home...almost too much fresh air...

If you haven't had the chance...or never thought about taking a trip to the nearest sugar bush...what are you waiting for???

Enjoy some good old Canadian culture, some history and some fresh air...you really will not gain a single calorie from eating fresh pancakes after all the activities to be had.  The Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation area also offered horse drawn wagon rides to the sugar bush!  Nothing signals spring's return like a touch of maple madness.  Oh yeah, that and the robin's sweet song!  

If you need more reasons to indulge in some maple syrup, check out my previous post (original post on December 5, 2010) called "Maple Syrup and the Winter Blues".  It has a scrumptious recipe for protein-packed Quinoa Pancakes as well as a whole bunch of nutritional information about maple syrup as a natural sweetner!

Dig in!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Planning your garden....part 2

Its almost too much to bear....waiting on spring to finally arrive....waiting for the last of the dirty snow to leave this earth....and wanting to put shovel to dirt...

I thought I would share something I implimented last year...after attending an Intro to Gardening seminar with key note speaker Cam Mather!  (I promise I will probably have a couple of posts that don't mention the Mathers...some day...haha)  He showed the group how to plan your garden using a map of sorts...

This is something I have never done, but after doing it for a season, it proved to be a real learning experience.

I drew a very rough idea of our main garden patch.  Then added in the things that are fixed, such as rocks, logs and fencing (and our asparagus which doesn't move from year to year).  See image below for a bird's eye view of last years main garden patch.

Cam suggests you keep the map taped to a piece of cardboard with 2 pencils attached to the board
with string (that way when you're in the garden, the chances of losing it are far less). 

I make sure to mark my path way through the garden to our compost bins (this path changes every year).  I mark where the large container planters go.  At the bottom, I list which plants I want to grow, as a reference.  When I find a good spot for them, I cross them off the list.  That way I am sure to have room for everything I want.  Nothing gets left out!

My husband always laughs at me, because I space everything out WAY TOO MUCH.  In my defense, I try to envision what the plants looked like last year....how tall, how wide they became at the peak of their growth.  I try to alleviate crowding as much as I can, naturally.  What is it they say?  Quality not quantity. 

South of the asparagus you can see a path way that trails off this map.  I do have a second map that goes with this plan....its what Ches and I affectionately call the "pepper fence".  We plants single stalk things there like eggplant, peppers and everything else that doesn't get viney.  Sort of a knee high divider between our property and the neighbours without the need for proper (view-disrupting) fencing.  The pepper fence includes more than just peppers...its home to the plants we have never grown before as well.  I may not know how they will perform in our soil...but after one successful season, I integrate them into the main patch depening on their sun and growth requirements. 

The Pepper Fence (now with more than just peppers!)

I take into account that the sun rises from the asparagus side and glides over the garden throughout the morning....and there is a metal shed on the right hand side.  The cherry tomatoes have a tendancy to take over everything when we plant them in the soil...so we put them in large containers and place them next to the metal shed.  The heat absorbed by the metal acts like an insulator.  The tomatoes just love it.  Everything on the left hand side of the map is planted directly into the ground and doesn't grow much taller than 1.5 ft, mostly our root veggies.  Everything on the right hand side of the map is grown using tomato cages (like our peas) or on trellises (or is it trelli?  hmmmm) and tend to be viney. 

I tried including as much info about the planting as I could fit into the map.  I tracked which row was planted when, so that I knew approximately when I could harvest them (according to the seed package predictions).  Its also agreat reference for when to plant things the following season.  When everything is a small wee sprout...it also helps to remind you what you planted and where!  Remember I stagger my planted rows, meaning I plant one row, then 2 weeks later I plant another row of the same veggie.  That's a sure-fire way to avoid being swamped with 25 lbs of carrots all at once.  When you have limited time to prepare or store these yummy treats, you'll want to maximize every second you have.  The only draw back I've found to the staggering method is this:  when your gut instinct tells you to fill your garden up on May 24th weekend...you'll have to exercise some restraint.  Patience is definitely a virtue in this case. 

The mapping method also gives you a chance to look at last years garden in the winter time and see what changes you might want to make depending on the success or failure of each plant type from the previous season.

Our cukes didn't do so well last year...so I will definitely be finding a new place to grow them this year.  That's ok though.  Like everything in life, gardening is a learning experience and this mapping method gives you a perfect opportunity to reflect on lessons learned.

Make a map of your own this year!  See if this method works for you...

This year's mapping experiment?  Varieties!

We'll be trying to list which varieties we're planting...hoping that if we keep track, we just may select wiser the following season.  Check back in 2012 to see if what we discovered! 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wee baby taters....

We are finally getting around to planting!  I know its been a while since I made a true gardening post...but I was getting around to it.  It seems that spring fever has hit every one in the house...our cat Buster has been tormented by the return of the spring birds.  Noah and Owen seem particularily spastic these days.  And Chester...he looked at me the other day and said "hummph....I wanna grow some stuff."

So of course I obliged!  We discovered some of our potatoes were starting to grow eyes.  I was instantly transported back to preschool days and the thought occured to me to grow some potato plants!  It was definitely in my mind to grow potatoes this year.  We've never done it.  I'm not entirely sure why!  After reading Cam Mather's book the All-You-Can-Eat Gardening handbook, I discovered that it truly is a wonder food!  The UN declared the potato as THE food that can be grown in almost any condition on almost every continent.  It's packed with nutrients...so much so that Chris Voigt just completed his own personal challenge 20 POTATOES A DAY for 60 days!  You can check out his adventure at his website...


Its a funny site that definitely delivers the nutritional goods.  Well worth a visit for those of you who need an excuse or two to eat way more potatoes.  It even features 21 different potato recipes.

In the meantime, I thought I would share with you what we did with our eyed potatoes.

baby tater plants - March 18-2011
Simply put, these are just wrinkly taters from the bag, stuck with toothpicks and set into mason jars with water.  Remember day care days?  or preschool experiments?  Same thing...only we're going to plant these suckers and hopefully have a great crop of taters!  We'll also start some more in a few weeks....that way we aren't flooded with potatoes...faster than we can eat them!  Tha'ts called staggering your crop.

We'll be checking back in with these little guys soon enough....they've already grown quite a bit since I took this picture!  Ches also brought home some baby red potatoes...so we'll try to get them going as well.

Next post:  Starting the peppers....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Left Over Night

I started a new job last month...and it's been great to be back in the workforce.  I will admit, though, that being back at work doesn't allow me the time I'd like for meal planning (of course).  I used to hate cooking.  Once I became unemployed last March, I was a woman on a mission.  We didn't have very much of anything and I was determined to make the most out of what we had.  I was the shoe-string meal MASTER!

Now that I'm back at work...and it's shift work at that...I have been very good about not buying lunches out.  In 4 weeks, I have only bought one bagel from Tim Hortons...and that is saying a lot!  I make all of my lunches ahead of time and package them up so that I can see them even if it were still dark out.  Coming home to my husband in the kitchen and my son yelling MUMUMUM! as soon as I walk through the door...its been wonderful!

Last night we decided it was time for a left over night...and it was definitely a smorgasbord!  See picture below... 

Its not the most colourful meal I've ever taken a picture of...but the taste was DEVINE!  Clock-wise from the top:  Tourtiere from the local farmer's market, spatzle that my hubbie Chester made one evening I worked, and fried cabbage with apples.  This post is going to discuss the cabbage mainly, but I'll also include a bit on spatzle.  Before I move on, I'd like to add that the tourtiere (for those who've never had the pleasure) is a french meat pie with mashed up potatoes in the meat mixture.  I buy mine from the farmer's market here in Verona.  It's made with pork and tastes almost exactly like the ones my step mom Mary Elaine would make at Christmas time.  How flavours can carry so many memories is beyond my comprehension!

This is a close up on the cabbage.  First off I am not a fan of cabbage.  I'm not sure that growing them last summer turned me right off of them completely...as I wasn't a huge fan before that...but when I saw how they hve a habit of harbouring slugs and earwigs...ugh....

I would probably research more about how to keep the pests off of them...if I liked them a little more.  That could explain why I'm not planning to grow any this year. 

That was...until Ches made this side dish a few nights before.  WHOA MOMMA!  It was the most amazing taste.  He used about a half of a cabbage, sliced julienne, and added some of our frozen apples that were already peeled and sliced.  There was some water and vegetable broth, a splash of apple cider vinegar, a dash of salt and pepper and a little dap of dijon mustard.  The result was pretty inconspicuous looking...you'd never expect something this bland coloured to taste so vibrant.  Add a little butter and a turn of your salt grinder...serve while warm!  If you require more colour from your side dish, you could always leave the peels on the apples, or use red cabbage instead.

We get a monthly food box stuffed with veggies...and we've gotten a cabbage in each box for the last 3 months.  I don't even want to look at the things, so I'm very happy that Ches did something useful with them! 

The spatzle is a funny story...as far as I know, my husband has no German blood in him...but every now and then he gets a HUGE craving for this german side dish.  Apparently, his maternal grandfather and name sake Chester Lane used to make it on occassion.  Its basically a dumpling.  The Joy Of Cooking recipe is as follows:

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup of milk

6 cups of salted water

Mix dry ingredients together.  Mix in wet ingredients.  Form a batter ball and force through a pasta strainer into the simmering water or stock in a frying pan.  Toss in pan until brownish.  Serve while hot.   My husband likes to add a sprinkle of nutmeg or parmesan to the mix.  Both good variations indeed!

In a typical meal I don't like to have so many carbs going on, but I did preface this post by saying it was left over night.  Not shown is the huge salad I made to go with the meal.