Monday, December 28, 2009

My Christmas 2009 Letter

I posted this Christmas letter to many wonderful friends - old and new - whose addresses I was able to procure. Alas, I wasn't able to send a hard copy to everyone I wanted. So here's the electronic version. I've been tempted to edit it as I didn't do so after writing the letter (it took 10 hours...5.5 of which were writer's block), but have fought the urge..so an unedited version!

CHRISTMAS 2009

I have to admit, when I sat down to write this Christmas letter (or is it a novel?), I found myself struggling with what to say. In fact, this is my sixth (and final) attempt. What could I write that I’d not said in previous Christmas letters? How could I avoid the ‘Year in Review’ format, while still giving you a glimpse of the transformative experiences I’ve be fortunate enough to have? And what if you expected me to be funny? How could I pull that off in the context of Christmas without resorting to self-depreciating tales of baking blunders or tree-hunting gone awry? What I really wished was that I could just give you a really, really big, long, warm hug and say ‘thank-you’ for being a part of the mosaic that is my life. In the absence of that, I wanted to give you words that could wrap themselves around you and give you reason to smile. But what kind of words could do that? I was at a loss and after much time spent thinking about what I could say, I decided I could not neglect lunch any longer. One cannot, after all, write on an empty stomach. And as I was making myself an omelet, it became clear that the only way forward with this letter was to invite you to dinner and offer you an ‘A La Carte’ menu of sorts. So please, have a seat, break the bread, pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the meal.

A Teaser

This past year I’ve been consumed by all things food related, given that it’s the self-selected subject of my graduate research. Really, the love affair with food has been going on for many, many years but it’s only recently that I’ve gone from being smitten with food, to gaining a true appreciation for just how pervasive and important it is to every facet of our lives. At the beginning of the year I was under the rather na├»ve impression that my research of local food systems and sustainable agriculture would, at most, give me the knowledge and insight necessary to write a stellar thesis on the subject, or possibly, test my sanity. I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be going on any life-changing adventures to foreign countries in the upcoming year. Instead I’d be interviewing food folks and trawling my way through academic literature. Sure, this educational pursuit seemed worthwhile on some levels, but I doubted it would offer anything especially valuable to the evolution of my perspective of the world, or insight into myself. I mean, come on, it’s graduate school. Enough said. Ah, but now, as the year comes to a close and I reflect on what the past twelve months has brought by way of unique experiences, lasting memories and gifts of insight, it is clear that my forays into ‘all things food’ have done much more than merely feed my hunger for knowledge.

Appertif #1 –Plant Seeds, So That You Can Grow

Until this summer, I’d never gardened, an admission I make with embarrassment given that I am such an advocate of eating locally. If pressed as to why I’d not taken it up in the past ten years I’d cite lack of permanency as the main reason – I mean, really, how easy is it grow a garden when you’re living smack in the middle of downtown Sydney or in an third story apartment in Edinburgh? But the truth is, I’m just not very patient. And as I learned from my mother, gardens take patience … and a lot of weeding. Neither of which really spoke to my strengths. And then this spring I learned that there was a community garden within one block of my house. How could I not garden? I thought, ignoring the fact that I was planning to traipse around the country for the all important planting and weeding months (i.e. May thru July). So I found a gardening partner who also had no vegetable gardening experience. We decided that, given our lack of gardening knowledge, the only thing that made sense was an experiment. And so the Great Tomato Experiment began in earnest. We planted about 24 commercial variety seedlings, as well as three varieties of heirloom cherry tomatoes. I got intermittent updates as to how well our ‘kids’ were doing while I was on the West and East coasts. By the time I came back to Kingston in mid-August, the tomato plants were burgeoning with red fruits. I picked and picked, ands still could not keep up with the supply of deliciousness streaming from our little garden plot. I started giving tomatoes to friends, and searched for recipes that called for ‘many tomatoes’. I had many people predict I would OD on tomatoes, but this was not the case. Instead, as winter falls upon us northerly folk, I find myself going through withdrawal. I cannot eat grocery store tomatoes any more. I’ve been spoiled by the taste of a real tomato. The only reprieve I can see in sight is the next growing season. I’ll be plowing and planting again, no doubt. As it turns out, the rewards of growing something from seed and tasting real food far outweigh any tests on my patience.

At the same time, I also started harvesting at another garden – a CSA to be precise. I’d signed up to do a ‘workshare’ at a Community Supported Agriculture farm on Wolfe Island. So in exchange for three hours of work per week, I would receive a small share of the farm’s harvest every week. On Thursdays I’d take the ferry to Wolfe Island, bike fifteen minutes to Vegetables Unplugged and start picking whatever vegetables were written on the chalkboard that day. It was not, as I’d expected, hard or boring work - quite the contrary in fact. I enjoyed searching out, picking, and bundling up the vast array of garden vegetables and conversing with the other harvesters. Mostly, though, I looked forward to the inevitable quiet that would descend on the day even as the bright sun ascended into the skies, and the chance to contemplate life or something less esoteric, like what to make for dinner that night, without the mighty distractions that I’ve invited into my daily life. It seemed to be an escape of sorts, although in retrospect, I think I’d call it a return to something innately familiar and comforting.


Appertif #2 - Eat Together So That You May Sow the Seeds of Friendship

The Amish, as I discovered while visiting Pennsylvania, know how to entertain a crowd. Into their modest farmhouse, one Amish family found a way to squeeze 40 adults (academics and students who were attending a food conference) around a very, very long table (their walls are collapsible, so that they can hold church services in the home). I was lucky to count myself amongst their guests. We were served platter after platter of the most delectable dishes – the best mashed potatoes ever, a roast so tender it almost felt wrong to swallow, and apple pie that …but I digress. The best part of the meal came after dessert. That’s when the Amish father/husband passed around music sheets and told us that we’d be singing together - Amazing Grace. So we did. And then he told us that when they get together with new people over dinner, it is tradition for everyone to introduce himself/herself and share a little bit about their family and where they were from and what they did for a living. I was sure he must be kidding – he didn’t really expect all forty of us to share this information – surely that would take forever?? But then we started and it took awhile, but that didn’t matter in the end. What’s time matter when you’re sitting at a table full of strangers who are giving you a glimpse into their lives? I daresay we’d do well to take our lead from the Amish when it comes to eating dinner: eat well, eat with others, sing songs together and if you find yourself amidst strangers recognize that they are just friends waiting to be made.

My Amish meal was not the first or last memorable meal I’ve shared with friends, new or old, this year. The cold, dark winter months in Kingston were bearable only because there were endless potluck get-togethers staggered throughout January, February and March. I didn’t really need to be reminded that I am fortunate to have such a wonderful group of friends in my new, albeit probably temporary, home of Kingston, but the potlucks sealed the deal and, quite possibly, contributed to my decision coming into spring that I needed to train for a half-marathon. Spring and summer was a blur of eating experiences - from being taken to a fantastic Italian cooking class in Vancouver by my wonderful friend, Andrew, to celebrating Memorial Day with a classic BBQ in Pittsburgh with Emily and her family, to toasting my friend Schemida and her husband at their wedding in Halifax, to many welcome home and farewell dinners at various pubs and restaurants in PEI. A big table filled with plates of food and pints of beer is, without fail, the best venue at which to catch up with old friends, celebrate milestones, and shape new memories.

Entree - A Community

Unexpectedly, adventure showed up at my door this fall when I ventured south of the border to a wee state known as Vermont, where I was to spend a month doing data collection on the much-talked-about local food system developing in one of their many blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sized towns called Hardwick. I was intent on completely immersing myself in the local food scene during my short stint in Vermont, so I decided upon arriving that I would not shop at any chain grocery stores, and would endeavor to eat only foods that had been grown/processed locally or, at the very least, organically. I also vowed to sample the local restaurant cuisines, indulge in some of the state’s brews and wines, and attend as many food-related events as possible. All of this, of course, in addition to carrying out interviews with all sorts of folks involved in local food development – from agro-entrepreneurs, to government workers, to retailers, to farmers (my favorite group of interviewees in the end).

The weeks flew by as I ate my way from one event to the next, making friends out of strangers across tables filled with lamb dishes of every conceivable kind, rolling out pie crusts in a commercial kitchen so that food pantries would be stocked with pumpkin pies come the holidays, shopping the aisles of Buffalo Mountain Co-op, taking part in the weekly community lunch held in Hardwick, rustling up dinners from local meats and root vegetables, chatting with farmers and foodies, and celebrating my first, but hopefully not last, American Thanksgiving. And somehow, by the end of my stay in Hardwick, I knew that this sliver of time had changed something inside me and would, very likely, shift everything in time.

It’s funny, we’re often led to believe that the pivotal moments in life are the ones Hallmark has cards for, or the ones we’ve been dreaming about for years and years. But the truth is, far more often, your perspective or your life’s direction shifts quietly, bit by bit, being gently pushed or pulled by small, seemingly innocuous encounters and experiences that, individually, amount to nothing more than an anecdote to share on one’s blog or a memory to be tapped when you’re craving some nostalgia down the road. Collectively, however, they might just have the power to shift your thoughts, your actions, even your life’s compass. But you probably won’t realize it’s happening as it is, and when you finally do get time to breathe, when you return to the familiarity of ‘home’, and discover you are not the same as when you left, you’ll have to make a choice to either nurture these delicate new feelings and thoughts that have found their way into your head and heart, or let them wither out before they’ve had a chance to grow lasting roots.

A Digestif
I know, I know. You are feeling STUFFED by now right? Hopefully not over-stuffed, but one more bite would send you over the top to be sure. So, I’m going to hold off on dessert, but would like to offer you a digestif - something to finish off this meal of rather epic wordiness and I do hope you’ll indulge.

Plant a Garden. Feed Old Friendships. Pour Pints. Try New Dishes. Sing Together. Share Food With Strangers. Watch Yourself Grow. Eat With Others. Celebrate at Dinner Tables. Experiment with the Recipe. And Be Open to Changing the Menu.

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And that, my friends, marks the close of this meal.

I do hope you find yourself giving and receiving food, warmth and, of course, love, in all the days that are still to come.

Oh, and please remember to thank those that make it possible for us to enjoy food every day including the cook(s), the bakers, the gardeners and, of course, the farmers.

May the spirit of Christmas rest in your heart throughout the year,
Shannon

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The EAT Coast - A Kitchen Party in Halifax, Nova Scotia

I'd convinced myself that the moment I left Vermont and crossed the border into Canada, I would be freed from the seemingly never-ending opportunities to indulge in tempting foods grown locally. Then I realized I'd be crossing the border into Quebec and spending a weekend in Montreal, where the French-Canadiens still 'souvien's that 'bonne nouriturre' is a key ingredient to a 'bonne vie'. Plus, heck let's face it, they're smart and they know that soveriegnty and food independence go hand in hand. So, with visions of cheeses wheels and maple sugar candies dancing in my head, I promised myself I'd reform my gluttonous ways after the weekend, all the while ignoring the fact that this would also mark the last turn of the calendar year.

Yes, that's right, somehow I thought December would be an opportune time to begin reparations to my body which, with the exception of my taste buds, had suffered noticeably from six weeks of life south of the border. ( To be fair, this wasn't a completely absurd thought given that I have *actually* lost weight over the holidays in years past.) I rationalized that there'd be few, if any, social occasions where I could be a 'locav-or-ganic' and that had been my only justification for all the eating I'd done in Vermont - really it was purely research-based eating.
Well, in any case, it turned out I was wrong. Very wrong. I had underestimated the burgeoning local food scene on the East Coast of Canada (now affectionally referred to as the 'Eat Coast'), where I would be spending the remaining days of 2009. And, as I discovered on a weekend trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia, I had also grossly underestimated my friend Tarek's affinity for all things edible and local. He might very well love food as much as me. And that is saying a lot.

Cook. Eat. Drink. Repeat. That basically sums up my weekend in Halifax with Tarek. We did throw in one random 'Jog' on Sunday afternoon, just to shake things up a bit. Even that, however, involved food, as Tarek pointed out restaurants worth visiting along our jogging route and we ended our run with a visit to Pete's Frootique, where organic and local foods were on offer. At the end of the weekend, we agreed we would have to co-author a blog post about Eating on the East Coast. And so, here is what we got up to and chowed down on in Nouvelle Ecosse, in a sort of 'She Said, He Said' manner:

At a Warehouse in Brooklyn

Shannon Said
I made the 3.5 hour drive from PEI to Halifax on a gusty Friday afternoon - the Confederation Bridge was shut to high-sided vehicles and the speed limit for cars was 40km. My Toyota Echo was like a tin can, being whipped around the road every time gust of wind blew up Why am I sharing these seemingly non-food related details of my trip? Because it meant that I couldn't eat. And so, by the time I'd arrived in Halifax I'd had only a blueberry-banana almond shake the entire day. And Tarek clearly had his priorities figured out by the time we arrived at his apartment - they were of the liquid variety. So my next nourishment of the day was also drinkable - this time it was Irish and stout (like a leprechaun!). Suffice to say, by the time we headed out for dinner at 9pm I was ravishing.....in appetite, not in appearance.

I have to give Tarek great credit - he did his research on restaurants before I even showed up and then sent me links to a few of the websites, including one that featured a picture of a rather angry looking chef holding a big carving knife. The menu was more appealing than the chef's photo, and so we found ourselves walking the blustery (i.e. bloody cold) streets of Halifax in search of the very unobviously named 'Brooklyn Warehouse' (the building bore no resemblance to a warehouse and there was no bridge to Manhattan in sight...not even the one to Dartmouth was visible). We'd timed our arrival so we could take advantage of the Prix Fixe menu - a 3 course meal with options for each appetizer and the main. After very little contemplation we also decided we needed to consume more alcohol, this time in the form of a red wine. By the end of our meal I was stuffed, slightly inebriated and wholly impressed with the food, service and ambience provided by the Brooklyn Warehouse. I had a delicious warm mushroom salad served on a generous portion of greens, a terrine platter with pita and a variety of yummy dips, and for the main course chose the pork chop, which was even tastier once I learned that it had been sourced locally. So in the end, we each had an amazing 3 course meal, great service, and a shared a decent bottle of Pinot Noir for less than a hundred dollars. I'm not sure you'd be able to find a comparable meal for such a steal in the 'other' Brooklyn. Maybe, but I doubt it. Plus, chances of being mugged after dinner are probably lower in Halifax...

Tarek Said

When Shannon arrived we wasted no time getting right into one of our favourite pastimes - eating. We knew where we wanted to go - the Brooklyn Warehouse - and we knew what we wanted - the Prix Fixe menu. We had been planning this well before her arriva. So we braved the cold and windy night and walked over to the Brooklyn Warehouse. I went for the Mixed Greens, Red Curry Steamers and the Pork Chop and to go along with it all, we had a very nice Pinot Noir. I'm not going to give you a blow by blow of each course but I will say everything was fantastic. The mixed greens were delicious, the red curry mussels were amazing but the piece de resistance was the pork chop and risotto. I've made risotto many times, so needless to say I've had some really good risotto and occasionally some not-so-good risotto. I wasn't sure to expect, sure bacon in risotto makes sense, bacon does make everything taste better, but I would never have though of combining bacon and vanilla together but it worked! The pork chop was juicy and delicious! I didn't think Shannon and I were going to eat that good again all weekend long but thankfully I thought wrong!




Local pork chops, bacon-vanilla risotto
and seasonal vegetables.








Bacon Makes Everything Better

Tarek Said

The next day I tried and tried to convince Shannon to get up early with me to go to the Farmer's Market. The reason I wanted to go early was because I had to work, sadly some banks are opened on Saturdays, and the only way for me to do both, the market and work is to get to the market before anyone else. Personally, I love going to the market before the rush but if you know Shannon, you know she's not a morning person. She said she would go later and pick up whatever we were going to need. I felt safe letting Shannon pick the ingredients and she did not disappoint. She came back with 11 scallops in the shell @ $0.45 each (but he only charged her for 10 because he thought she was cute), a pound of nitrate free bacon, some locally made cheese (smoked Gouda I think) and some cauliflower. After work I picked up some traditional (raw) kibbie and mint from my father's restaurant. When my father makes kibbie he uses the nicest cut of beef from a local butcher. I picked up 2 pieces of cooked kibbie too. Our main course was going to be a piece of local grass fed beef but we quickly realized we had too much food so we left the steaks for another night. The guy at the market told Shannon how we should cook the scallops, steam them in a pan with some wine and garlic. Simple but delicious and with a small piece of bacon on top..... didn't I say bacon makes everything taste better! I always enjoy traditional kibbie, as it's not something my father makes very often. Kibbie and mint make an excellent combination and I was happy to see that Shannon was not turned off by eating raw beef. We polished off the scallops, cheese and kibbie with a bottle of wine, but sadly I can't think of what kind, or even if it was red or white. How much did we drink??

Shannon Said

OK, let's clarify something right now. I am neither a morning person, nor am I a non-morning person. I can get up early when need be, function at almost 100% and don't even growl at people (most of the time). But when Tarek suggested that we should get up at the ungodly early hour of 7.00 am just so we could get to the Farmer's Market before he went off to his bank job, I put up some resistance. Maybe a lot of resistance. I mean, really, I chose to become a studetn again expressly so I am not a slave to the alarm clock. I told him I'd go to the market on my own and get anything he wanted. He asked for bacon and scallops - I was also meant to pick up vegetables for him and his brother to eat throughout the week.

The Halifax Farmer's Market is AMAZING. I'd been once before, but had basically been dragged through it at high-speed in search of Belgian waffles. This time, I was on my own and had no schedule. The market is housed in a huge, old brick building on the waterfront. Inside, it's a labyrinth of hallways, stairwells and rooms filled with food and craft artisans selling their wares. There were two young guys at the entrance - one was playing a fiddle, the other a stand-up bass - yes, I was indeed back in the Maritimes. Just beyond them, I found chocolate and cheese purveyors. Clearly, this was going to be a fruitful market venture! I wandered around the market, ogling all sorts of goodies and plotting how I could make my purchases and still have a hand free to hold a crepe (I'd not had breakfast). I ended up with two bags full of groceries - bay scallops in the shellfrom a sustainable aquaculture outfit (loved that the guy was able to tell me how to cook them), nitrie-free bacon and sausages from Sweet Williams, apple cider, gouda cheese, and a tonne of vegetables including leeks, kale and organic potatoes. I am still curious as to what the guys did with the leeks and kale!

In the afternoon we stopped by Tarek's Cafe (Tarek's father is also named Tarek and has a restaurant in the North End of Halifax, where Tarek picked up some raw and cooked beef kibbie - this would be my second time eating raw meat. My mother, who works for the CFIA, might be cringing, but I trusted the source. We had been planning to cook up two local, grass fed steaks that Tarek already had in the fridge, but after looking at what we had planned for 'appetizers' I think we both realised we were being overly ambitious. So we saved the beef, and had a delicious sampling of cheeses, pita, raw/cooked meat, and scallops topped with bacon, all of which went well with the Pinot Grigio I'd picked up at the liquor store. I can't stop raving about the scallops and bacon - what an amazing combination. Maybe it's true, maybe bacon DOES make everything taste better, but I did have a few non-bacon adorned scallops and they held their own.












Bay scallops topped with bacon.

A GOURMET AFFAIR AT TAREK'S CAFE

Shannon Said

Tarek told me his father was charming (a trait which, according to Tarek, has not been inherited by him...I've yet to make my own conclusion.), and he was spot on with this descriptor. Late Sunday afternoon we made our way to Tarek's Cafe with beef steaks in hand, hopeful Tarek's father could BBQ them up on his grill. Evidently we looked like we were starving because his father insisted we have a seat while he cooked us up a feast. And he wasn't exagerrating in the least. Plate after plate arrived before us. Well, actually we were first presented with a bowl of spicy peanut shrimp soup - apparently the spice Tarek's father put in the soup was supposed to have special effects, which I'll refrain from elaborating on. Next up was grilled calamari wrapped around asparagus sticks, then just in case we were still hungry after all that lovely seafood, a plate of dips and pita arrived at the table. Despite already being close to full I couldn't pass up the baba ganoush and hummus that were tempting me. Mmmmmm...so delicious and so garlicky!

By the time our main meal was placed in front of us, served with a generous portion of linguine accented by garlic, of course, and steamed vegetables, I was *almost* convinced that one could, indeed, overdose on deliciousness. Still, there was steak to be eaten and I didn't want to appear ungrateful to our wonderful host/chef so I tentatively ate the steak, certain w that my stomach was plotting its vengence with every passing bite. And then they, the two Tareks, poured the last of the SECOND bottle of red wine and it was suggested that we might like to try Arak, a Syrian liquor with a 51.5% proof. Shot glasses were procurred and I drew on the last of my reserves to down two shots of the good stuff. It tasted a lot like zambuca (sp?) or licorice.

Tarek's father, who has been living in Halifax for over thirty years, was a great conversationalist ( a trait his son definitely inherited) and over the course of dinner I learned lots about the restaurant scene in the city (evidently it's changed a lot over the years) and about Tarek's Cafe. The restaurant has been in operation for 12 years, and has expanded in size over time. It is an order-at-the-counter and take a seat or take away type of place (i.e. there's no table service). The menu is mostly Middle Eastern fare, with many pitas, platters and kebab options on the menu. Notably, there's also a juice bar. I asked Tarek (the chef) why he advertised 'gluten free' options and he told me that he had customers who started telling him they couldn't eat wheat because they had celiac disease. So he decided to read up about the disease and now offfers a menu that is about 90% (this may not be correct percentage) gluten free. He also offers many vegetarian menu items.

We also had a bit a conversation about garlic - I noted that while he was catering to celiacs, he seemed to be opposed to having any vampires come withing a 50 foot radius of his restaurant. To say that Tarek appreciates what garlic can do for a dish would be an understatement. Apparently the restaurant goes through 20 to 25 lbs of the stuff a week!!! Tarek (the younger one) told me when he worked at Tarek's 2 (a sister restauarnt owned by his Uncle....so more of a brother restaurant reall) that he would bring bulbs of garlic home and mince/shave them while watching tv. Hehe. The walls at Tarek's Cafe were adorned with bouquets of garlic bulbs just in case any diner was unclear on the love affair the restauranteur had with this plant. Oh my. We talked about many other things, I am sure, but by then the Arak had hit me and I was distracted by worries about whether I'd be able to walk at all given the amount of food and alcohol in me.

Somehow we made it back to Tarek's apartment and managed to find room for some amazing maple ice wine and fudge, which we enjoyed while talking to our friend who lives in Alberta via Skype (the one whose wedding Tarek and I met at this past summer). Monday we went back to Tarek's Cafe for lunch - from the menu this time. I had the Chicken Souvlaki pita with tabouli salad and it was, unsurprisingly, extremely tasty. As I was trying to finish my pita, it occurred to me that I was very lucky neither of my parents had decided to go into the restaurant business. I can only imagine what impact such a decision would have had on me over the years, given my affinity for eating. I am quite certain my waistline would be in even dire straits than it is currently.

I left Halifax fully satiated and with intetions of returning sometime in the new year to enjoy the farmer's market, more of Tarek's hospitality (but shhh...he doesn't know I'm going to drop in on him again!) and some of the restaurants I didn't get around to eating at this time.

Tarek said

For Sunday night's meal we were going to have the grass fed beef. My brother and I had bought an 1/8th (or some fraction) of a cow and even before we received the meat, Shannon and I had agreed we were going to have a steak when she came to visit! We weren't sure what to cook with it, not that we were tired of cooking or out of ideas, I think we were tired from our 10k run that afternoon. We brought over the steak, and a bottle of Don David Malbec (red wine) to my father's restaurant for him to cook on the BBQ. Of course, he made us a few delicious appetizers. I rarely eat that well when I go there alone! Our first appetizer was a molokia soup with shrimp and roasted pine nuts. At some point, the 3 of us, Shannon, my father and myself, finished the bottle of wine we brought over so opened up another bottle of Don David my father just happened to have in the back kitchen. Finally, we had the steak with some asparagus on the side. The steak was perfectly cooked, nice and tender and delicious. Shannon and my father got along, she picked his brain about food and the restaurant business. Afterward, we went back to my apartment and had some fudge we bought that afternoon from Pete's Frootique and a bottle of Jost Maple Ice Wine that had been sitting around the apartment waiting for just the right occasion, and when two 'foodies' get together, they will make the right occasion happen.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

An EPICurean Ending

I must preface this blog post with a warning to readers that it *may* contain some controversial/sensitive subject matter. Do not proceed if you are staunchly opposed to strange food combinations, Americans teaching Canadians how to play hockey, or the BBQing of poultry on a special occasion.

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Sadly, my sojourn south of the border has come to close, at least for the time being. My final two and a half weeks in Vermont left me wanting for nothing, except, perhaps, a second stomach and a higher tolerance level for fine red wine. In any case, data collection continued to fill my days, and was especially interesting coming on the end, as I finally tracked down some farmers to talk to. They were, by and large, the most interesting interviewees and if I were living in Vermont, I'd be begging one of them for an internship position so I can learn how to use a ho.

Outside of official research activities, I continued to take in as much of the local food scene as possible through direct observations (i.e. copious amounts of food consumption). Luckily, by this time I'd managed to meet some people who were willing to cook, eat, and drink with me, which meant I no longer relegated myself to Friday nights sitting in Kate's kitchen alone, drinking Boyden Valley apple wine and eating local Holstein balls. To be fair, this particular scenario only occurred twice, but that was 2 times too many for this social Canadian (not to be mistaken with a socialist Canadia because, as I was informed more than once by left-winged Vermonters, 'socialist' is a dirty word in most parts of the US, which I kind of already knew, but found amusing/concerning anyways). So, in the interests of trying to finish this blog post before another turkey dinner comes my way, here are the top 3 food stories from my final weeks in Vermont. Organized, quite judiciously, in chronological order from most matured to freshest.


PIES FOR PEOPLE

On a wet Tuesday evening (Nov 17th), after a full day of interviewing that had left me with no time to eat lunch or dinner, I found myself heading to Sterling College, which is located about half an hour from Hardwick in the small town of Craftsbury. Sterling College is the smallest college in the US, with about 100 students enrolled (that's a total #, over four years!), and on this particular evening, the college's kitchen was to serve as the functional venue for pie and soup making on a rather grand scale.

The task at hand: to make approximately 120 to 150 pumpkin pies for food pantries in the local area, and to make as much soup as possible from the squash puree that had been donated courtesy of High Mowing Seeds. The people who would make it happen: volunteers from Sterling College (mostly students, but also at least one staff member) and UVM (again, a mix of students & staff) and, um, one random Canadian grad student who found herself feeling ancient amongst a group of 20 year-olds that were remarkably mature and knew their way around a kitchen. Our fearless, brillian leader: Elena, who works at the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick (the non-profit organization that spearheaded the Pies for People project this year) ) and wielded her cooking and organizing skills to great effect. Within the span of 2 and half hours we managed to prepare, from scratch, 110 pie crusts, and defreeze (thaw?) the pie filling and squash soup puree. Oh, and clean! It was a fun night, captured on camera! Not to mention: This was really the 'final piece of the pie' in an inspiring collaboration between local farms, agriculture processors and schools, that committed to bringing Pies to the People, from planting, to harvesting, to pureeing, to preparing the final product.

I think this may be the first time I’ve prepared dessert without so much as a sample tasting! Notably, it was also one of the most enjoyable baking experiences I’ve had. I was salivating (figuratively, not literally b/c that would be gross) over the wonderful expansiveness of a commercial kitchen, all decked out with professional kitchen gadgets, pots galore, sharp knives and a sound system to boot... oh yeah, we were groovin’ to all sorts of tunes. My favorite eavesdropping moment of the evening was when the Dean of Students (probably not actually his official title, but it was something like that) for Sterling College who I’d guess was in his late forties, asked the young male student whose playlist was blaring out of the speakers what the name of the band playing was. When the student replied 'Death Cab for Cutie', the Dean asked him to repeat the name and then responded with 'uh huuuhhh'. I have to admit I felt a hint of jubilation that I recognized the name of the band - maybe I'm not so old after all.

APPLE & BACON A LA CRISP


My friend, Phil, had invited me along to a birthday celebration he was going to and suggested we make a locav-or-ganic dish to take with us. I told him I had a tonne of apples to use up and some local bacon from Bonnieview Farm that I'd been assured was delicious and nitrite free, assuming he'd suggest an apple dish and we would eat the bacon ourselves. Well, it turns out I underestimated the creative cook lurking in Phil, who promptly sent me a recipe for Apple-Bacon Pie. No really, Google it - there are a number of recipes out there for this strange savory-sweet combination of vitamins and fat.

Well, I'm not going to lie, I balked at the suggestion of bringing an Apple-Bacon pie to a birthday party where I knew no one. I could just imagine what they'd think/say. 'And then this Canadian girl showed up with an apple pie that had BACON in it'. It's a well known fact that Americans have a claim on apple pie, hence the phrase 'As American as apple pie', and Canadian Bacon is held in high esteem around the world, heck there's even a movie by the name! Did I really want to be the one to suggest an assimilation of these foods, a merger of deeply rooted culinary heritages? I think not. I am not that brave.

But then I came around to the idea, mostly b/c Phil was so enthusiastic about it and I'm not keen on extinguishing creativity in the kitchen. I gave him the simple task of peeling and slicing the apples and set about making the pie crust. The recipe called for a pre-made crust, but I was intent on making a crust that was from local or organic ingredients so started from scratch with organic flour, local Amish butter, and organic sugar. It seems, however, that I'd become a little too confident in my baking abilities and assumed that I could 'wing it' on the pastry recipe since I'd helped prepare 120 pie crusts earlier in the week (I somehow ignored the fact that Elena had given us very specific ingredient amounts to work with when we made the pie crust mix). Well, in any case, the Amish hadn't packaged their butter in the conventional 'stick', so I had to eyeball the amount. It should be noted that as I patted the dough into the pie pan, I commented to Phil that I *may* have put a bit more butter in than necessary. It turns out I was right on the money in this respect, as I discovered when I checked to see that the pie crust was baking up properly. It was not. Rather, the pastry dough had turned into a soggy, oily, unsalvageable mess.

I attempted to cover my embarrassment at the disastrous results of my pastry-making attempt, by using the oldest trick in the Cook's book - improvisation.

'Sooo...I don't think we're going to be bringing an apple-bacon pie to the party after all. Umm....how about an apple-bacon crisp?' I suggested, while taking a sizeable gulp of red wine in an effort to forget about my baking debacle. It didn't work. So I took another swig and then admitted to being embarrassed by my baking blunder. Phil didn't bat an eye, although he *may* have chuckled a little bit.

I do believe the apple-bacon crisp was thoroughly enjoyed by those that tried it. We ended up with a crisp to suit the vegetarian/traditional eaters and the more adventuresome/carnivorous eaters at the party by sprinkling the bacon on half of the crisp. In the end, I'm kind of glad I messed up the pie crust, because there's no saying that goes 'As American as apple crisp', so I didn't have to worry about justifying the intermingling of culinary heritages, only about the absurdity of pairing bacon with apples. And for the record, the Bonnieview Farm bacon is the best bacon I've ever had.




SMOKEY THE TURKEY AND AMERICAN-STYLE STICK GAMES


While it's true that we have Thanksgiving in Canada, I have come to discover that our celebration of the harvest is markedly different than that of our American counterparts in many ways. First, there's the obvious - Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in mid-October, Americans in late November. When I was quizzed as to why Canadians had their turkey day so early, I had to postulate, on the spot, that our harvest is likely to end earlier given our northerly climate. This seemed to placate the American inquisitors, but then they (and by they, I mean Joe S.) came back with 'well, what are you celebrating exactly? I mean, did you have pilgrims?' Sigh, no we didn't have pilgrims and I have no idea why we celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada when it's not a British tradition, I suppose it must have been one of the few times we've been inspired by the American way.

As an aside to any Canadians visiting the States - you will be expected to know the rationale for everything that Canada and its inhabitants do or purport to be. You may, for example, be required to explain the Parliamentary system (just tell them it's like the British system with an air of assumption that everyone whose anyone understands the British system of government and they'll back off), or give them a list of Canadian foods (poutine is the obvious fallback here, but you could throw in some other French words for fun like 'tourtiere de lappin' or 'fromage souper' or 'le Horton's de Tim), or, if you're really lucky, someone will ask you what you think of single-payer (i.e. 'socialist) health care. At this point I suggest announcing that a Canadian invented basketball (they'll fight this to the tooth & nail, but just send them here to Canadian Heritage Minutes), that Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and that the Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key upon seeing Fort McHenry heavily bombarded by the Brits during the War of 1812, which was a war the US basically lost. For extra umph, make mention that the tune of their anthem is actually that of a very popular British drinking song of the time. This should be enough to encourage a change of subject, at which point you can stop worrying about not knowing why Canadians do what they do.

So in the lead up to American Thanksgiving (Nov. 26th) I was presented with two equally tempting invitations. Kate, whom I'd been staying with in Hardwick, invited me to the afternoon dinner she was attending- her daughter and her daughter's friend would be preparing the meal and both of them were professionally trained chefs. If I stayed in Hardwick I could also take part in the community lunch, which would feature turkey and all the trimmings. Two turkey dinners in one day - very, very tempting! On the other hand, Joe had invited me to join him and his wife, Maura, at their friends' (Charles & Holly) house for a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (i.e. for those that had nowhere else to go). Charles and Holly own the Penny Cluse Cafe in Burlington, where both Maura and Charles cook up divine dishes. So, again, dinner would be prepared by two chefs. Really, I couldn't go wrong with either invitation, but in the end I opted for the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with Joe & Maura for various reasons that may or may not have included mention of street hockey and special drink concoctions by Joe.

The day's festivities got off to a roaring start with Joe explaining to those of us standing in his driveway packing the car for the trip to Shelburne, his ingenious idea for transforming a tennis ball into a less bouncy, heavier, puck-like ball for the street hockey games that would take place later on.

'I stuffed some caulk in the balls', he stated rather proudly

And so, unsurprisingly, there was excessive use of the words 'caulk' and 'balls' throughout the day and well into the evening. By the end of the day, Joe was squeezing the caulk out of his balls - a messy job, but somebody's gotta do it.

We made a stop at the Penny Cluse to pick up Maura and a load of food that would be served up at dinner that evening, then headed for the countryside. The festivities began promptly upon arrival at Charles and Holly's with Joe mixing up some sort of cranberry-whisky (?) concoction that he dubbed 'Dirty Turkey' (I think, although I could be corrected on this). He offered me a sample. I tried to decline and failed. OK, here's the thing, I had accidentally consumed far more than my share of two bottles of fine red wine the evening before and was in no shape to be drinking anything besides water. So after one sample I bowed out of the alchol consumption (until I found myself gravitating towards a nice bottle of Riesling later on in the afternoon).

The afternoon was a blur of guests arriving and food being prepared while other food was simultaneously being thoroughly enjoyed. There was a cheese plate, a lamb sausage plate (courtesy of Bonnieview Farms - again, delicious fare!), scallop casserole , cauliflower soup, melon wrapped in prosciutto and that was just the appetizers. I kid you not.

At some point Joe, Charles, and some of the kids made their way outside for some street hockey action (it should be noted it was actually driveway hockey and that Charles had constructed end-boards so not every ball that missed the net had to be chased across the road...). I decided it was time to come into my own as a Canadian and so, for the first time in my life, I picked up stick and played hockey. Yes, yes, I am far too aware of how un-Canadian it is for me to have NEVER played hockey - street or ice - in the 29 years I've claimed citizenship of the great hockey nation. What can I say? I blame my parents. They gave me books to read and a bike to ride, but no hockey stick. Furthermore, I am well aware that Alanis would say 'isn't it ironic?' upon learning that my first hockey game was played south of the 49th parallel.

Well, in any event, I had a blast playing street hockey despite not being properly attired and completely perplexed as to why Charles was repeatedly calling me by my full name. And then, of course, there was Joe, who started calling out 'skrit' and 'ditch pig' as if I should know what the heck he was saying. Evidently I don't speak Canadian slang. I was feeling less and less like a true Canadian as the game wore on, but then, through some miracle of miracles, I scored on the net with a fantastic assist from a teammate! Woooh - there might be hope for me after all.

Meanwhile, while us humans were eating appetizers and playing in the driveway, Tom was spending his afternoon in the BBQ. At six o'clock we (approximately 12 of us) gathered around the dinner table where platters and dishes of food awaited us. I cannot even begin to recall the entire dinner - clearly Tom was the star of the show, a divine tasting turkey that had been grilled and thus had a hint of smokiness that was delightful. In addition there was stuffing which had been baked in a hollowed out pumpkin, mashed potatoes, endive casserole, some delicious roast vegetables with brussel sprouts and bacon making the dish particularly unique, scrumptious dinner rolls that Charles literally tossed to the guests (a little taste of football at the table!), cranberry relish, and other delights I am sure I am missing.

So we proceeded to stuff ourselves with deliciousness courtesy of Maura and Charles. It was, quite simply, a wonderful meal and I was so grateful to be a part of this special gathering of a closely knit group of friends, each one equally interesting, engaging, warm and welcoming. I've always maintained that friends are the family you choose, and I could see this sentiment rang very true in Charles and Holly's house that evening.

After dinner, many of us found our way back to the driveway for more street hockey. Joe had eased up on the 'skrit' name-calling, but dubbed me a 'cherry-picker'. It was neither here nor there to me, since I had no idea what the term meant. So I scored another goal and tried to avoid getting injured on my last day in a country that doesn't have universal health care. At one point, Harold, a friend of Joe's, took a time-out from playing hockey to tune up his fiddle. He sat on the sidelines playing jigs, reels and the such while we chased after Joe's caulky balls in the darkness of a late November evening.

And then we came inside for dessert and more mingling - after dinner arrivals had come in full force from their own festivities to say hello and catch up with friends and neighbors. At some point Joe and I discussed pop psychology and he pegged my Myers-Briggs personality type, which impressed me. That's when I advised him that the Star Spangled Banner was a defeatist war song, which did not impress him.

Eventually we said our goodbyes to our gracious hosts, Charles and Holly. I think I may have made a promise to come back to Burlington solely to enjoy the next Penny Cluse dinner series meal. If it means eating delicious food and enjoying the company of some of the delightful people I met at my first American Thanksgiving, then I may very well find myself back in Vermont sooner then I'd planned. And that would be perfectly fine by me.


Stuffing in Pumpkin - YUM!


Tom is grilled. Joe makes a friend.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tarek's Take on The Omnivore's Dilemma

On occasion, or perhaps more often than that, I throw out reading suggestions to random people that I may or may not know very well. I have a mainstay list of must-reads that I surreptitiously slip into conversation:

'Oh you want to go to the San Fransisco zoo someday eh? That's cool, San Fran is an awesome city! You know, if you enjoy zoos, I'm sure you'd enjoy the book Ishmael. The main character is a gorilla.'

I obviously choose not to mention that the gorilla, Ishmael, communicates through telepathy with the protagonist of the novel, a young male writer who volunteers to be the gorilla's student as he searches for answers about how the world came to be as it is, and what the future might hold.

Right. Well, in any case, as of late most of my book recommendations tend to be food related and typically the first book I recommend to people on the subject is Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. There are many excellent exposes of the food industry in America out on bookshelves, but Pollan's approach offers multiple perspectives from which to view one's dinner - he basically explores four paths by which food reaches the dinner table: industrial (dominant), organic, local or closed-system agriculture, and personal (i.e. hunting/foraging). There are other books I enthusiastically recommend as well, but Pollan is a captive storyteller who has done his research, both secondary and primary, with respect to America's food systems, and The Omnivore's offers an appetizing point of entry into discovering more about how the food that ends up on your dinner plate, got to be there.

All of this is to say that back in October, over post-marathon drinks at Hunter's Ale House in Charlottetown, I *may* have suggested to newly minted friend, Tarek, that he check out both of Pollan's books. Now, I don't ALWAYS throw books suggestions at new people I'm just getting to know - first I suss them out to see if they'll be amenable to reading suggestions. I do this very subtely by saying 'Do you read?' If they indicate that they read (and don't mention 'Playboy' in their response), then I see them as fair game.

But to be honest, I never really expect anyone to take me up. Quite frankly I am always shocked when I learn that people have listened to any sort of advice or suggestions I dole out. And so it was that I found myself mildly shocked when Tarek told me that he'd actually made the effort to visit the library and pick up The Omnivore's Dilemma. I was even more surprised (pleasantly) when he began reading it and asking me questions. Woohoo - someone to have food conversations with and (possibly?) a convert! The shock of all shocks came when I discovered that Tarek had followed through with his promise to write a 'not a book report', which I happily promised to post to my blog. So, for the second time in as many months, let me warmly welcome guest blogger, Tarek Clamp.

THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA - THIS IS NOT A BOOK REPORT

This is not a book report. This is not a book review. This IS what I took from Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book that was highly, and repeatedly, recommended during the marathon weekend in PEI. A day after coming from home Charlottetown, my stiff legs walked my aching body into the library. I picked up the book and it has kept me company on the bus ride to & from work.

If we are what we eat, chances are we’re probably corn. That was the message I got after Pollan follows the life of a kernel from a farm to how it gets put into a Big Mac, Coca-Cola, a Swanson’s TV dinner, spaghetti sauce off the grocery store shelf, or almost anything you can think, even the Sausage McMuffin I enjoyed a few mornings a week while booting up my computer at work.

How does corn get into this food? Let’s see. Corn is used as feed for the cattle (7lbs of corn turns into a ½ lbs of edible meat). Corn is used to make a sweetener, HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup), the bun, the burger, ketchup, Coca-Coke. Fermented corn is used to make citric acid (in the Spaghetti sauce).

At no point does Pollan’s book ever turn me off from eating what I enjoy, whether it is my Sausage McMuffin, ground beef, that more than likely came from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO, i.e. factory farm), or food from a restaurant. I am more consciously aware of what is very likely in the food I buy but he doesn’t try to gross me out or make me feel guilty about liking it. I began to catch myself looking at the labels to see if there really was corn in the food I buy. Now I know there is a very good chance that there is corn in it and, more importantly, I understand why.

Thanks to Pollan I now want to work on a farm. He romanticized the idea of working on a farm, and I have considered and continue to consider, quitting my office job. I know there’s no money in growing food, but rather, only in ‘adding value i.e. processing food. I’ve looked at internships on Joel Salatin’s farm, Polyface, and there’s a chance I could be there in 2011. I tried to convince my friend Shannon to run a farm with me... or work on a farm with me. It’s probably a good thing that she didn’t say “YES, I FOUND US A PLACE TO WORK” because I don’t know if I’d be ready to go. I’m sure I could kill a chicken. I actually wanted to help butcher the chicken my roommate received for Christmas when I was in Ghana but sadly our watchman got to it before I got home. He (the chicken) did make a good dinner.

Sure, I could do it for a week, a few months, maybe even a year, but at some point I’ll want to travel and then who is going to do my job? If I can’t work on a farm, then I want to buy my food from a place like Polyface Farm. And wouldn’t you know I just moved into a new apartment above a store that supports local agriculture. Soon my brother and I will be getting 25lbs of grass fed beef and each week a box of veggies from a local farm! I can’t wait!

I question how Salatin would kill his cows if he was allowed and how he would, or could he, be more ethical than the commercial butchers, who accept a 5% error ratio. Errors being a cow still alive after a 5” “nail” being shot into the head.

Finally Pollan decides to be hunter/gatherer, not my favourite part of the book. He learns how to hunt mushrooms and wild boar. With a lot of help he manages to make a complete meal from food he foraged, something he knows is not an option for the majority of people. Even he can’t do it, except on special occasions. He philosophizes on the ethics of hunting animals, something I have absolutely no issues with, not that I’ve done it but I would. I grew up in rural area, people hunt. They enjoy it, and if they don’t get anything, they still enjoy it. If they do get a deer, they have meat for a while! I don’t know of anyone who hunts for sport, and that, I would probably have a problem with.

So what did I get from this book? That if you want to be healthy, staying as close to source of your food is the answer. Make your meals from scratch so you know what is in your food. Try to buy locally produced items (veggies, fruit, meat, bread) and get to know where your food comes from. The more you know, the better off you are. Money that stays in the community is better for the community. Not because of this book, I’ve been doing this for a few months now already, but I’ve been buying some of my meat and most of my veggies from local farms (local to me is about 100km away) who set up shop at the Saturday market in Halifax.

And that’s it. For now.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

'I Am Not A Glutton, I Am An Explorer Of Food'

I found myself suffering title-ist block as I sat down to write this blog entry. Clearly this is because my last attempt at post titling ended in me alliterating my way out of thinking up an even mildly witty title. So this time I cheated. I typed 'quotes about food' into Google's search engine and voila, found the perfect quote for this particular post (what is wrong with me? I have an addiction to alliteration!).

So a thank you to the late Erma Bombeck for offering me an escape from 1 of the 7 deadly sins through the use of creative redirection: 'I am not a glutton, I am an explorer of food.'

Indeed, I daresay if there were a Food Explorer's Club, I'd be vying for top honours in 'Greatest Number of Enviable Eating Explorations'. All I can say is that I'm holding up my end of the bargain, and thusfar Vermont has been holding up its end by offering endless opportunities to be a glutt....um...I mean a gastronomic explorer.

Here then, are accounts of my most recent food explorations, sub-titled by individual conquest.

Burlington Bluebird

Burlington is to Vermont what Charlottetown is to Prince Edward Island. Which is to say, it's the only 'city' in the state. And I use the term city very loosely. I believe the population is approximately 35,000 in the City proper, although I've been told (with great emphasis) that IF you add in the surrounding towns AND the student population of UVM it's more like 70,000. Charlottetown also has a population of approximately 35,000. Notably, Vermont has a total population of 600,000, while PEI's is only 140,000, which seems to suggest that PEI is MORE urban than Vermont. This strikes me as absurdly funny, but I suspect that might be because I am writing this under the influence of many glasses of apple cider.

Right, so my point is that both Charlottetown and Burlington residents enjoy a disproportionate number of great dining choices given their size. Off the top of my head, I would recommend the following restaurants in Charlottetown and area(depending on what one is looking for in terms of food, price, etc.): The Dunes, The Merchantman, The Pilot House, Leo's Thai Kitchen, Cedar's Eatery, Off Broadway, Churchill Arms (for cheap English curry!), and Mavor's . In Burlington, I've enjoyed meals at Penny Cluse, American Flatbread and, most recently, at a place whose name I've yet to learn the origin of (but should).

So last Saturday, after an afternoon of wine sampling at Shelburne Vineyard and an intermission to enjoy some live music at a funky bar called Radio Bean, my friend (we'll call him Phil-up-on-Food or PF for short) suggested we have dinner at Bluebird Tavern. Joe (see Shannon Had a Lot of Lamb blog post) had already recommended the restaurant and I'd been following their menu tweets on Twitter, so enthusiastically agreed. A self-described gastro-pub (basically I think that means they aim to do beer AND food equally well) located on Riverside Avenue, the tavern benefits from its proximity to the Intervale, which is home to several small-scale and incubator farms that serve the local market. The tavern's interior offered a cozy winter cabin feel, which is interesting given that the place used to house a Mexican restaurant. I felt like I should be wearing a parka and long underwear, or at least a wool sweater. Oh well. I ordered a pint of Switchback (thankfully, there are many microbreweries in VT). The menu was full of enticing options, but it quickly became evident that we should enjoy a share dinner. In breaking with tradition, I (kind of) insisted on having the chicken option purely based on the accompaniment, which was foraged wild mushrooms. We had two appetizers to start: kale sauteed in something (memory is failing me) and lamb sausage. What can I say, except that the entire meal was divine. I believe my favorite tastes were those of the foraged mushrooms, which were accented by other tasty morsels (not morels!).

Wednesday, I made a second visit to the Bluebird Tavern with Joe and his wife, Maura. We drank at the bar and sampled off the tavern menu: poutine (Quebec border is about 45 mins north!), butcher's board (meat pates and mustards), and squid (from Rhode Island - not really local, but as local as one could get with seafood in VT). The fare was tasty and the company much enjoyed. While we bevvied a number of people stopped by to say hello to Joe and Maura, which made me think of Ireland and Scotland, where the pub was always 'a third place'...a place for people to come together, say hello, catch up with old friends and, more often than not, make new friends. Maybe, given its unique location in a town and state where 'community' still seems to hold meaning and value, the Bluebird had been able to transplant the tradition of the public house to America. Did I mention I love Vermont?

Jerusalem Art-I-Choke on Soup


On Sunday afternoon I drove to the outskirts of Montpelier to meet up with another new found friend who was testing the soil in the yard of his rental accommodation, which is an impressive schoolhouse-turned-open-concept-house, to see if it was acidic/neutral/alkaline when I arrived. Neutral....just like Switzerland, as Jen Mac would say. He pointed to what looked like some tall weeds in an overgrown area that 'may' have been a garden at one point and said the landlord had told him that those plants were Jerusalem artichokes. He drove a shovel into the soil and moved some of the sod away to find the artichoke. At first neither of us could find the tuber, but eventually landed upon what looked, to me, like a radish. Neither of us was completely sure this was the artichoke in question, but we forged ahead with the artichoke harvest and ended up with about 8 tubers, some larger than others. After a hike that was thwarted by the sound of hunter's shotguns, we decided to make dinner from our foraged food. I checked google images to confirm whether our treasures were, in fact, edible. Well, to be honest, the images didn't exactly match what we'd unearthed, but that didn't stop us from making a Jerusalem Artichoke Soup, which, if I do say so myself, was quite delicious, albeit rather ugly. Best of all, it turns out we didn't mistakenly eat something poisonous. Always a bonus.

No-Economists-Land (aka - A Free Lunch)

In my first year of university, I recall my Microeconomics professor vehemently proclaiming that there is no such thing as a free lunch. He explained that there is always a cost a 'free lunch' because the time taken to eat that free lunch is considered a 'cost'. Well, I've always disagreed with this argument b/c regardless of whether someone else is treating or you are going out on your own nickel, you're still going to be taking time to eat the food, so doesn't that make the issue of 'time' a moot point? Personally, I'm not a fan of classic economic thought, it's rather reductionist and it takes the fun out of things. Except the dude who wrote Freakonomics is still in my good books - he makes economics fun!

In any case, every Thursday there is a community lunch in Hardwick., VT. It's held at one of the churches on Main St., but is not hosted by the church. I believe it was started a couple of years ago by Robin, one of the collective members at Buffalo Mountain Co-op. So I dropped in and found myself at the end of a line of about 20 or 30 people, and there were probably about 50 people already digging into what looked like a hearty, colourful lunch. There was a donation box sitting at one of the tables in a rather understated way. Once I came to the table of food I took a glass plate (yay to no paper plates) and piled some roasted veggies and couscous, then ladled some hearty beef soup into a soup bowl. Apple cake was also on offer, along with apple juice and homemade coleslaw. I sat down with Kate and her two adorable granddaughters, and was introduced to a couple of local folk, including a long-time farmer who raved about how well Quebec treats its farmers and told me neither of his children was interested in taking over the farm (the work's too hard) and another older man who is a blacksmith. And it occurred to me that we are on the brink of losing a generation of very knowledgeable people whose skills we will dearly need as the centralized, oil-dependent systems we depend on become even less stable than they currently are. The era of valuing a certain kind of left-brain thinking over all other kinds of thought and labour is, in my opinion, nearing an end. And when it does, we may or may not be in the position of having a huge gap in essential knowledge around things like how to grow food, how to build homes, how to take care of our health, etc. It would behoove us to be proactive on this front, however, I'm not entirely optimistic that the left-brain thinkers that dominate today are going to have the foresight to avert the loss of traditional knowledge bases.

In any case, I quite enjoyed my community lunch, and didn't meet any economists. I doubt there are any living in Hardwick. And that's probably a good thing. About 120 to 150 people show up for lunch each week and somehow they manage to keep this going, despite the fact that it's free.

Ice Cream from the Dairy-Air of Vermont

OK, so I've been holding out on taking a field trip to Waterbury, VT in hopes that some friend from The Great White North might come to visit me while I'm living here and then we could check out Waterbury together. More specifically, we could check out Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory, which is located in Waterbury!!!! Yes, yes, that's right folks, some of the world's best ice cream is made just half an hour from where I am currently residing, making it very local and therefore within the scope of my locav-or-ganic challenge. Oh what a burden this challenge is. Do you know how hard it is to choose between 30 different flavours of wonderfulness? It's nearly impossible.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, it should be noted that I could not hold out any longer and saw now sign of any friends from Canadia dropping in on me. So, I decided I'd go it alone, and set out on Friday afternoon - the sun was shining and my legs were sore for no particular reason. Originally my plan had been to hit up two chocolate shops, an organic bakery AND the ice cream factory in one go. At some point during the first fifteen minutes of my drive, I came to the logical conclusion that this was far too ambitious given my time frame (not to mention, far too indulgent).

Yes, it was indeed a day of strange occurrences - my legs were sore and I'd employed logic to make a decision. That's when I realised...it was Friday, the 13th. Strange things were bound to happen. Maybe, I hypothesized, Ben & Jerry's will turn into some sort of Willy Wonka-like movie, where we get to slide down mountains of ice cream, and swim in lakes of hot chocolate sundae sauce. Ooooh, and maybe Ben & Jerry didn't REALLY sell out to Unilever, but are waiting for just the right person to happen upon their factory doors and that person will inherit the dairy-dom. And clearly, that person will be me!!

But I digress.... sometimes I get a little carried away with my food fantasies. Please forgive me.

Before I reached B & J's place, I stopped in at Cold Hollow Cider Mill, which offers visitors the opportunity to see a commercial cider mill in action and, of course, plenty of apple-inspired foods to purchase and enjoy. I bought a half gallon of apple cider. That is what I am polishing off right now. It's delicious.

Ben & Jerry's
ice cream factory is fun! That's really the best adjective I can think of to describe my experience there. They've done a great job of creating a comfortable, colourful and funny (in a v. corny way...or should I say 'milky way'?) experience. The factory tour was $3, and took about half an hour - the first 7 minutes of which were a video about the history of the company (they got started after taking a $5 correspondence course on ice cream making through Penn State!). Then we were taken to a viewing deck above the production floor and the guide went through the ice cream making process with us. Unfortunately, there was no ice cream production going on while I was there. Finally we were led to the tasting room, where we were given generous samples of the taste of the day - a Mint Chocolate ice cream (can't recall the exact title). It was delicious. After that, I checked out the retail store, picked up a pint of Frozen Yogurt (Half Baked) for $4.75 and then proceeded to the scoop shop for a cone of some delicious flavor. Normally, I'd go for something with PB in it, but on this day I decided to try a flavour that I'd never had before: Chocolate Chip Cookie dough. It was delicious. Unfortunately, I had been feeling progressively worse throughout the day and didn't have an appetite, so some of my B&J cone ended up on the I-89. Oh dear. Clearly I will need to pay another visit when I am feeling better, if only to stock up on more pints of ice cream to share with friends back in Kingston!


And that, I believe, is an 'almost' complete recount of my food experiences thus far. I'm still holding out on writing about the various food enterprises in Hardwick, but they will come soon, I promise!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Edible Excursions and Entrepreneurial Escapades

After two weeks of lusty infatuation with the state of Vermont, unlike many men I've dated in the past, it has not lost its appeal. In fact, I've become even more endeared with this wonderful state. Quite possibly this is because I've had such fantastically surreal food experiences and met so many intriguing, warmpeople that I've been able to put the 14 hours of daily darkness and other unenjoyables (which, honestly, I can't think of right now) out of my mind. Well, in any case, I'm happy to report that Vermont and I are still on VERY good terms as the honeymoon period progresses. Clearly, I need to give a blow by blow account of every amazing encounter I've had with Vermont (VT, for short). Food, wine and people feature prominently. Go figure, I have my priorities straight finally!

Last Tuesday I was invited by Tom Stearns, media darling of Hardwick's local food system, an intensely gregarious fellow and owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds, to join him on a monthly 'Business Owners' meeting. Over the past few years a number of young food entrepreneurs in Hardwick and the surrounding area have been meeting on a monthly basis to eat, mingle and talk about current business issues that they are confronting. I had no idea what I was in for. All I knew was that it was a potluck and I was to bring something (quinoa salad was the obvious choice). I met Tom at his office, and we carpooled with four other food entrepreneurs from the Hardwick area. I found msyelf instantly in awe of Hannah and Jonathan, a couple in their early 30's, who had started a non-profit community called Heartbeet. This community is home to over 30 special needs people who live on a 160 acre working farm just outside of Hardwick. The residents spend their days working on the farm, caring for the animals and assisting with planting/harvesting. As Jonathan explained, they have the chance to be the care givers, rather than just being taken care of. Wow. Later I learned that this amazing couple had four young children of their own.

Anyways, the business meeting was brilliant. Each month a different group member hosts the meeting at his/her place of business, and offers of tour of the facilities. This month, the group was treated to tour of two adjacent businesses located in Middlesex - Red Hen Bakery (the state's largest organic bakery) and Nutty Steph's (specializing in granola and delicious chocolate). Let me tell you something - there is NOTHING better than going to a potluck where everyone in attendance is passionate about food and, more importantly, produces it for a living. There were no veggie trays from the Superstore, that's for sure! Suffice to say, we enjoyed a feast of fantastic organic bread, cheese, local beer, local tofu, homemade kimchee, locally handcrafted choclates, etc. After a tour of the bakery and samples at the chocolate shop, the group discussed a number of topics. I was struck by the burden that these small business owners were under to ensure their employees had decent health care. It seems in America that the small businesses are carrying the heaviest burdens of all, which is concerning, since they're also the engine of strong, local economies and social progress.

What became very obvious after a night in the company of about 18 food entrepreneurs, was that there was an amazing sense of camaraderie within this group of mostly 30-somethings (although there was one v. young cheesemaker and one older man with a long and well-established sugaring business) which was truly authentic and very unlike the energy I've encountered when I've attended Chamber of Commerce events in the past. Even more striking to me was that these folks, many of whom were young couples or had young families at home, were the ultimate caretakers. These people are 'raising' their small businesses, dealing with the growing pains, uncertainties and risks inherent in undertaking an entrepreneurial venture, all the while also being very mindful of their responsibilities to provide a living wage and health benefits to their employees and to give back to the communities in which they are operating (more about that below). On top of all this, they are raising children of their own. I know for a fact that I could never do all of these things, and have doubts that I could do even one of these things very well. But here they are, a group of ambitious, socially-minded, innovative people who are working together to create better food, better employment opportunities, better communities and, hopefully, a better future for their children.

Wednesday, I went gleaning. Such a sexy word, gleaning. I like to imagine that the word is a melding of glamourous and cleaning, which conjures up images of waltzing around a grand ballroom in a glitzy, floor-length gown bejeweled with diamonds, occassionally reaching out to feather dust a low-hanging chandelier or the such. Obviously the feather duster and ballgown would be matching in colour. I'm thinking a pastel blue. Oh, if only that were what I did on Wednesday. But no, gleaning is, in fact, a slightly less glamourous activity, albeit much more rewarding than feather dusting a ballroom. Basically gleaning is harvesting after the harvest has been done. Volunteer groups go out into a field or, in my case, an apple orchard, and harvest the 'leftovers' of a farmer's crop. I'd agreed to join Rebecca of Salvation Farms (part of VT Foodbank) and other volunteers in an apple-picking adventure. We spent about three hours picking apples from Chapin Orchards. I'd met the proprietor of Chapin Orchards at the business meeting the previous night. And now here I was at his orchard, helping pick apples that he'd given the Foodbank permission to harvest.I think we picked about 1,500 lbs of apples amongst a group of maybe 6 volunteers. I had to sign a waiver of liability. I joked with Rebecca that apple-picking was clearly a dangerous activity. Well, wouldn't you know, I had at least two apples smack me on the head within the first half hour of picking. At least I didn't have to climb the ladders, I suspect that would have ended badly for all. In the afternoon, Rebecca headed back to Hardwick to glean some squash from Tom Stearn's trial fields (recall, he owns a seed business, so much of what he grows is salvaged and used by others).

Wednesday evening I ventured out to Claire's restaurant, which is located on Main Street, Hardwick. The restaurant was actually closed (will write more about my dining experiences there in another post), but had opened its doors to let one of the servers hold a fundraising activity. This young server, who also worked on one of the local farms, was heading to Africa to teach sustainable agriculture (can't recall the country she was headed to). To raise funds for the plane ticket, she was hosting a dessert buffet and raffling off a number of beautiful items that had been donated by local artisans. The place was packed, the desserts were to die for, and I had a local beer to wash it all down.

Saturday was to be a full on day of food and wine sampling. I headed out of Hardwick mid-morning, ready to hit up the Food & Wellness Expo in Montpelier, which was being hosted by the city's grocery co-op, Hunger Mountain. Upon entering the room full of food vendors handing out samples of everything from caramel made with goat's milk (Fat Toad Farm), to grass-fed beef sausage (Applecheek Farms) to elderberry syrup, to gluten-free chocolate cookies, I realised that everyone loves free food. The place was jam-packed with people elbowing for chocolate yogurt samples and matchstick cuts of walnut bread. I couldn't handle it, there were way too many people vying for space. Plus, there were no alcohol exhibitors and my next visit promised to be much more fruitful in this regard. So off I headed to Burlington to meet up with a friend, and we drove out to Shelburne Vineyard for their Autumn New Wine Festival. Samples of wines, mostly sweet (yay!) were on offer and around the periphery of the sampling room, food purveyors were handing out samples. I saw the young (24!) cheesemaker from teh busines owners meeting sampling her Ploughgate cheese, as well as some of Jasper Hills' artisan cheeses, which had been featured on Martha Stewart Living earlier in the week ( I'll blog about Jasper Hills after I visit their caves), as well as another attendee of the business owners meeting, who was sampling her Laughing Moon truffle chocolates. And yes, I decided to sample one, rationalizing that they were made locally, therefore fit within the constraints of my locav-or-ganic challenge.

Phew. As I am writing this, I realise it's an extremely long post. Apologies, I guess I'm just having too many adventures in food!! I will break now, and write Part Two of my food escapades tomorrow. Stay tuned for Bluebird, community lunch, jerusalem artichoke soup, and a factory tour of Ben & Jerry's!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Mary Had a Little Lamb... Shannon Had a Lot of Lamb

I'm on the backside of a week living in my new favorite place on the continent - the state of Vermont. Before I came here the only things I knew about Vermont were as follows: it has decent skiing, it's home to Ben & Jerry's, the fall foilage is amazing and, whatever I might have gleaned from sporadic episodes of Newhart back in the late 80’s. Michael Moore, in his latest film Capitalism: A Love Story, also gave me a bit of Moore-style insight (i.e. slightly sensationalized) into what Vermont might offer by way of political views and values when he referred to it as the gay-loviing state – clearly attempting to articulate and simultaneously criticize what he believes to be the mainstream opinion of the rest of the union. To drive his point home, he also interviewed one of Vermont’s Senators, the only independent (i.e. neither Republican nor Democrat) and a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist,which is different than being a social Democrat (e.g. Clinton).

Well, over the course of the last week, I’ve come to determine that I’m living in a little bubble of wonderful cross-pollination. What I mean by that is that, to my eye, Vermont has taken the best of America (entrepreneurialism, independence, work ethic, etc.), married it with the best of Canada (social programs, community orientation, and acceptance), then added in a dash of Europe (delicious cheese and other gastronomic delights which I will attempt to elaborate on in this post!). And voila – you have it all, in one small, but beautiful piece of earth that hugs the Quebec border in more than just the geographical sense.

And that, I do believe, was a rather drawn-out segue into the subject of this post which, quite clearly, is LAMB. As it turns out, raw milk cheese, gay marriage licenses and quirky inn staff are not the only things to be discovered in ‘The Green State’. One can also find themselves in the throes of ecstasy upon discovering that lamb can be sourced locally in North America (admittedly, for a heartbeat I was disappointed that I could no longer use this as an excuse to take a working holiday trip to New Zealand for lamb sampling purposes).

That’s right, on Thursday of last week, I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and was treated to a most delectable local dinner at a restaurant in Burlington, called Penny Cluse. The restaurant, which typically does breakfast and lunch only, hosts a monthly ‘Dinner Series’ meal, which in this, the month of October, featured lamb, lamb and more lamb.

I really had no idea what to expect of the evening when I was invited by one of the UVM folks I’d met during my first visit to the campus. He (Joe) said ‘ What are you doing Thursday night?’

“Well, as it turns out, since I am new to the country, my social calendar is quite open’ I replied.

‘Perhaps you’d be interested in coming to dinner at the restaurant where my wife is the chef. It’s a farm dinner, it’s delicious. Trust me.’

‘Well, when you put it that way, how could I say no?’

I’m pretty sure this a very inaccurate recollection of our conversation, but in any case, I showed up at Penny Cluse on Thursday evening, ready for whatever gluttonous temptations I would face. The place was packed, people were milling about with wine in one hand and a plate of mouth-wateringly attractive nibbles in the other. My new friend, Joe (who looked very hip Canadian in a fashionable lumberjacke-sque buttom-up shirt) ,waved at me to join him at the buffet table, where people were filling up their plates. Oh OK, if I must. Let the indulgence begin!

He pointed at a mound of what appeared to be very pink ground meat. That’s kibbee. Hmm. Interesting. I’d had kibbee before. It’s a Middle Eastern dish and Rana’s mother, who is Syrian, had made it for her daughter’s bridal shower. It, as I recall, was brown in color. Well, as I quickly learned there are two versions of kibbee – the cooked version and the raw version. So, for the first time in my life, I voluntarily ate raw meat. And it was good. And I’ve not gotten ill. The rest of the buffet appetizers were a blur of deliciousness – the standout being crispy fried chicken skins (yes, JUST the skins!), paired with toast and lamb kidney.

Then, as a group of 50, we sat down for the plated meal at long tables. Oh dear. It started with lamb balls in a lemon soup, with vegetables to accompany. The next plate served up a lovely pinwheel of meat, of which the servers were relaying the ingredients. I neglected to take notes. Or maybe it was the two glasses of red wine I’d already downed. In any case, my head’s a bit fuzzy on that second plate.

Next were the main dishes – served up on sharing platters. Roasted leg of lamb, lamb sausage and some sort of spinach and cheese concoction that rather stringy and sharp (in a good way) were delivered to the table. I conversed with my fellow diners while trying to show restraint in my lamb consumption. It dawned on me, as Joe put a fourth glass of wine in front of me, that I might do better to limit my alcohol consumption as well, but I’d been abstaining from it pre-marathon so decided limitations on food and drink should be limited (to one or the other).

Finally, dessert was delivered to the buffet table. What, they expected that us diners could actually stand up and walk ten feet to get sweets?! Yes, that’s right, I had second thoughts about getting up for dessert – proof that anything is possible in this world! Luckily Joe came to the rescue and delivered a generous slice of ginger cake and a big scoop of on-premise Stout ice cream. Phew.

I was happy as a lamb.

I know that someone with the initials TC will likely give me a bit of hassle for eating a dinner which was not entirely local or organic. That being said, I was assured by Joe that Penny Cluse does source a significant amount of its food from local producers. Many of the diners were also farmers. Really, the way I look at it, this dinner was an opportunity to do some participant observation and scout for potential interviewees for my research study. It was therefore necessary.

What I learned from my observation of the evening is this:

1. Lamb is divine (to quote Jen Mac – why would anyone eat cow when there is lamb available?)
2. Eating together is far, far more enjoyable than eating alone
3. We, individually and collectively, need to celebrate food and those that bring it to our table far more than we currently do.

And that is the end of this lamb’s tale.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Holsteinballs, Chocolate Stout and Other Adventures in Vermont Cuisine!

Pumpkin Lane. What a lovely name for a road! Little did I know when I decided to see where it led, that I would find myself face to face with my dinner choice. Well, OK, not technically this evening's dinner, because clearly the ground beef I'd made into meat balls earlier in the day was not from any of the Holsteins that stopped, stared and then posed for a picture. It was an idyllic farm scene - rolling green hills, cows happily grazing on grass and enjoying the hay that had been put out for them. Across from the field sat a large, white farmhouse. The front lawn was filled with pumpkins of all sizes, green and orange, with a sign that said 'Self Serve'. Adjacent to the driveway was a large sign announcing that this was the 'Snug Valley Farm'.

Hmmm, that's familiar, I thought to myself. Why does that name seem so familiar?

At first I figured it was because I'd been compiling a list of local farms to contact for my research project, but then I realized that, in fact, I'd opened a package of hamburger meat with the Snug Valley label on it earlier in the day to prep for dinner. So there I was, standing face to face with these adorable, curious cows who had stopped grazing on grass to come say hello to me. And it dawned on me that this was probably the closest I'd ever been to seeing my protein dinner choice before it ended up in cellophane. It wasn't a traumatic experience, particularly since I didn't see the cows being slaughtered, but rather saw them enjoying a cow life. And they weren't in one of those horrible CAFOs where most beef cattle spend a good chunk of their life standing around in cramped paddocks, where the ground is a bed of dirt and feces and they are fed diet high in corn and given loads of antibiotics (to treat them for illnesses related directly to their living conditions and diet, ironically).

But this did give me pause for thought about my dinner and its origins. And that, is in fact, precisely what the first few days of my Locav-or-ganic Challenge have given me - more to think about, at every meal. Beyond the obvious questions that you'd expect when taking on a challenge like this, such as 'where am I going to find local meat?' and 'how am I going to survive without chocolate', after only three days I've found myself asking other questions, such as:

'Is eating locally, sustainably raised meat really worse for the environment than eating a diet that is, perhaps, void of meat but full of processed foods and foods that have been shipped from distant fields?'

'How many meals do I really need to eat each day?'

'What is my body telling me about my changing diet, now that I'm eating way more meat and no refined sugars, and minimal gluten?'

Yes, it's most definitely been an interesting few days. My first day, Sunday, I decided to go for a 10k run before eating anything. Or maybe I did have an apple, but not my usual oatmeal breakfast that's for sure! I got through the run, had my almond milk shake (as per my rule, the almond milk was 'stocked food' that I'd brought with me to Vermont). Then, mid-afternoon I decided to dive into making something out of the local ground pork I'd purchased at the co-op the day before. I quickly decided to make burgers - tossed in some onions, spices, an egg and some local, homemade garden ketchup, pattied them up and put them in the oven to bake. About 20 minutes later the fire alarm went off. Oops - so much fat was jumping out of the baking dish I was rather taken aback. I can't recall the last time I'd cooked anything with so many fat drippings. I topped it with some onion and more homemade ketchup, made a nice garden salad with it and then dug in. Wow. The burger was soooo delicious - I think this was partly because the meat was juicy and full of flavor, partly b/c that ketchup I bought as so yum!

In the evening I went to Vermont's state capital, Montpelier, to meet up with a cohort in the local food movement (yes, I need friends!). We enjoyed a pint of local, organic beer at the Langdon St. Cafe, then he needed to grab a bite to eat. I wasn't the least bit hungry and didn't want to burden him with finding a place that served local food in any case, so I watched him eat. Then we went to another bar and I enjoyed a local(ish) chocolate stout. Woohoo ! Myth # 1 debunked - You can 'go local' and still have your chocolate...and in alcoholic form nonetheless!

Yesterday, I headed to Burlington at noon, enjoying a leftover pork burger and salad just before I headed out on my trip. My afternoon was spent meeting folks at UVM - the university has been collaborating with Hardwick's Center for an Agricultural Economy on several local food projects. Two of the staff members took me for a tour of the Intervale - 350 acres of farmland in the city limits (adjacent to the unviersity) that have been preserved in a land trust and that serve to feed residents of the city through various means. There are community garden plots, a number of CSA operations, incubator farms, small scale farms. I even saw pigs on one piece of land!

In the evening I hung out with a self-proclaimed clean energy geek that showed me around town (on bikes of course!), then took me to a pizza place called American Flatbread with a twist - all the doughs are made from organic wheat and the restaurant endeavours to source its ingredients from local and/or organic suppliers. Close enough for me to be acceptable, given the circumstances. We shared the vegetarian special which had a potato leek sauce. Also enjoyed some beer brewed on the premises. Next, my new friend took me to a meeting he was attending of the Burlington Permaculture group. Seriously, I should be living in this city!! To round out the evening, I did some grocery shopping at the City Market, a co-op grocery store with a full line of foods.

Today, as I've already related, I made meatballs, or Holsteinballs, as I've decided to call them after my accidental viewing of the alive version of my meal. Dinner was rice pasta (also from stocked food), which was a last resort after I searched the town high and low for spaghetti squash (this was why I'd ventured down Pumpkin Lane in the first place!), with organic marinara sauce, meatballs and salad. Lunch was a pork burger and salad. Breakfast was a protein shake.

OK, so clearly I'm not a purist, but my diet has changed significantly nonetheless over the past few days and already I've noticed some very interesting things

First, I've been waay less hungry/inclined to eat than usual. I'm not sure why this is - I suspect it's because I've cut sugars and most carbs out of my diet (partly b/c this locav-or-ganic deems that necessary, partly b/c I've been reading up on the GI Diet, Primal Diet, etc.), while at the same time increased my 'happy' meat consumption significantly.

Secondly, I enjoy eating meat. I didn't think I did for a long time, so my dinners were often tofu stir-frys, omelettes and the like. Now that I'm eating more meat, I find myself looking forward to trying new recipes out and so far I've been rewarded with delicious meals!

Thirdly, I'm not sure I'm spending more money, overall, than I would be if I was eating my normal diet. This is partly b/c I am not eating as much for lack of hunger, and partly because I'm not going to grocery stores and picking up items I don't need. However, I have also made the observation that my 1.25 lbs of ground pork cost me $8.00. Not sure how that compares to conventional meat here in the States, but I made four burgers from that meat, and think $2 for one serving of meat is pretty decent. If I were to guess, I'd say the salad and other ingredients for my burger and meal were approximately $2 , so....$4 for a meal does not seem v. expensive to me.

In a nutshell, I am thoroughly enjoying this new locav-or-ganic experience tremendously. I've previously dubbed it a challenge, but the truth is that it is really a remarkable opportunity - an opportunity for me to try new recipes, to meet the people (and cows) who make it possible for me to eat daily, to try new food and drink, to listen more closely to my body and give it things that make it feel good, to visit unique grocery stores and restaurants, and to become more engaged and connected with every meal I prepare. I'm looking forward to more adventures in local food and am SO glad that I am temporarily living in Vermont, which is far ahead of the the rest of the States and Canada with respect to developing its local food systems!


Below are the before and after pictures of my sustainable & local Holsteinballs meal.