Sunday, May 29, 2011

Me vs. Market...Michael vs. Mud

My plan for this weekend was to;

A) make it to market on Saturday

B) prepare a bed and plant a few tomato plants

We accomplished 'A' on Saturday. Michael and I, along 2 of our 3 offspring made our way to the crowds. My kids are very proud of me, I'm getting so much better at 'handling' the throng. I'm not even certain why the hustle and bustle gets to me so much except that I am always that person getting run over with a wagon or stroller while I attempt to jockey around a dog leash in the faint hope of tossing $3.00 at a little boy helping his dad sell the family's tomatoes or onions. It's the height of stress (next to raising teenagers, but that's my other blog)

Usually I prefer to frequent the smaller family markets and farmstands where the crowds are thinner and the pace less frantic. This year however, I've challenged myself to indulge my family who all love the market. There are constant pleas throughout the height of the season. "Let's go to the market tomorrow." "Can we go to the market today?"

This year, I'm going to say okay. I'm going to grit my teeth and smile at the people who stop dead in the flow of traffic. I will smile as they whip around yelling "Harold, Harold, I'll meet you. I'm going for strawberries!" You never hear Harold answer, probably because he is out of earshot. He must be, I can't think off another explanation for the hand gesturing, not even close to American Sign Language, that almost smacks me in the face.

I'm going to do it!

Yesterday was a test. I wanted some bedding veggies, potatoes, something smoked and some cheese bagels. Michael wanted apples, chicken wings and french fries, Kate wanted cheese curds, Ethan wanted to browse the toy corner for some collector pack of cards he HAS to have.

I got my bedding plants, potatoes and bagels, I passed on the something smoked but picked up some gorgeous pigtails instead. Michael got apples from Martin's, some chicken wings from Hilltop Poultry and his french fries. Kate scored her cheese curds. Ethan wasn't able to acquire his cards but was satisfied with a hotdog (9 year olds are pretty easy to please) We accomplished all of this and no one was harmed in my wake...I passed!

In our tiny garden tomatoes and peppers
need to get along and share the space.
Today we tackled mission "B." The challenge was to prepare a small spot for some summer luxury items to be grown. We live in the jigsaw land of modern subdivision and our yard is what you would call tiny. Not enough room for a big garden but we can carve out a patch large enough for some tomatoes, pepper, lettuce and a hanging garden of herbs. It's very lucky for us actually that we only need a little plot; the ground is 100% clay and required 100% replacing.

It was labour intensive for Michael (have I mentioned he's amazing? It helps that he loves food, he can taste the promise of future rewards.) He carved a narrow bed out of the clay, redistributing heavy shovels full of the water clogged muddy nightmare in other areas of the yard. He filled the plot with peat and garden blend, tilling it by hand into what clay lay loose in the trench. We planted the cell packs picked up at the market. Added tomato cages and covered our efforts in bird netting to thwart the destruction of our neighbourhood bunny.

Now I just have to be patient. Another challenge! I guess I can always cook while I wait...


A reward for Michael's efforts.
Apple Rhubarb Crumble with ginger, brown sugar and raisins.

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Friday, May 27, 2011

Feet Up Friday!

Fridays that end like today has are some of my favorite. We are waiting patiently for the hockey game to start and finish so that we can find out who Vancouver is up against for the cup. We are cheering with gusto for Vancouver seeing as our Penguins are hanging about on the golf course. Hockey means a night with my feet up. 


They all start the same way.
I have 1 cake to do this weekend. It's a fantastic hobby and I love creating edible art for my friends and family. Feet up means I have to get that cake baked before my dogs hit the coffee table. Check...cake baked and cooling.

I don't really watch hockey but I like to pretend so that everyone enjoys the evening. I make casual inquiries about the score and power plays. Making the most of my feet up time means delving into something. Check...You can't imagine how excited I was to find the latest Food Network magazine on the shelf today. It's a fabulous magazine. I'm hoping for some inspiration for tomorrow morning's market visit.

No feet up evening would be complete without snacks. On the menu tonight is popcorn. Michael makes the most amazing old fashion, cooked on the stove, popcorn. He puts 3 good lugs of olive oil in the pot and pops, he finishes without butter, just salt. It's awesome. My very favourite batches are cooked at the cabin we rent in the summer. The ancient aluminum pot is a magic devise and elevates great popcorn to out-of this world! I know it could be the addition of atmosphere that makes the difference,  however I'm seriously wondering if I have the nerve to sneak the pot into our luggage at the end of our trip this year.

Tonight we're trying Uncle Bob's rainbow corn. We picked it up at Oakridge Acres. Turns out, it's really good. The only problem is that I decided to 'taste the rainbow' and mixed all the varieties. You can taste the subtle differences in the pieces...the only problem... now I have to get each individual variety to see which one makes the best single kernel bowl.

All in all, a fabulous Friday evening with our feet up. Some pizza and salad, a cervasa, some popcorn, a cake and great company. The weekend is looking good.

See you at the Market tomorrow, I'll be the one picking popcorn hulls out of my teeth.





You can visit Oakridge Acres at http://www.oakridgeacres.ca/
Information on Uncle Bob's popcorn http://www.ontariopoppingcorn.com/

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gadget Garble

The right tool exists for every job. Jobs in the kitchen are no exception. I will be the first to admit that usually the best and most effective tool for any kitchen job is usually my favorite chef's knife but how great does it feel to say "I've got a gadget for that!"

These are my little hand gadgets (most of them anyway) I was going to do a shot off all my gadgets but once I had the table full I decided that perhaps breaking into categories would be a better idea.

Of all these little wonders there are probably 6 I couldn't do without...

Potato ricer...candy thermometer...mellon baller...veg peeler...1 oz. scoop...and my forever getting misplaced cake edger

Other items like egg separators and lemon squeezers are more work to take out, fiddle with, wash and put away than they are worth. They do however entice kids into the kitchen, a trick I love!

Then there are the completely useless; spaghetti forks, corn nobs and crinkle cutters are really just fluff gadgets that make dinner look cool and turn up the 'fun to eat' factor. This comes in handy when I'm trying to get vegetables into my nephews.

Come to think of it, there is a vast amount of drawer space that stands to be gained in a gadget downsizing. Perhaps they need a decorative box of their own on a pantry shelf.

I could probably earn some cupboard space by repeating this same exercise with my mid-size gadgets. Next time.

What are your favorite 'little' gadgets? What's the one you simply couldn't do without? Do you have a gadget that you have no idea what it is for?

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Buy Local! Buy Fresh!

This is great article that appeared in today's local paper


  • By Ashley Csanady, Record staff
  • Wed May 25 2011

Foodlink’s map connects local consumers with local farmers

Tim Barrie shows off his asparagus crop at his Cambridge farm.
Buy local Tim Barrie shows off his asparagus crop at his Cambridge farm.
Mathew McCarthy/Record staff
WATERLOO REGION — A machine that resembles a biplane coming in for landing sweeps across neat rows of bright green stalks rising from dark soil.
The air smells of grass, earth, manure and rain.
On a cloudy morning in May, 10 workers sit along the wings of an asparagus harvester, creeping along a field at Barrie’s Asparagus Farm and Country Market.
The Cambridge farm has welcomed patrons to its farm-gate store for more than 40 years. But only in the last decade have Waterloo Region residents had a single resource to track down local vendors like Barrie’s Farm — the Buy Local! Buy Fresh! map, which plots sources of fresh, local produce throughout the region.
The map provides a ready customer base to independent farmers struggling against corporatization. Tim Barrie, owner of Barrie’s Farm, credits the map with growing his profits, profile and product base. He now sells everything from his homegrown rhubarb to asparagus salsa and pasta produced in partnership with local businesses. He also offers other locally sourced goodies, such as honey, cheese and grass-fed, pasture-raised pork.
“We’re a real word-of-mouth business,” says Barrie, adding it’s not just the map, but its complementary online listings that boost his business. “If we buy everything imported, who’s gonna work there?”
Local food “is important because it provides local jobs,” says Barrie. “They come here because of the map. Now, all of these places on the map, we all share each other’s customers.”
His local asparagus isn’t just fresher and often cheaper than imports, it’s also tastier.
“We have people who drive over and hour just to get our asparagus,” says Barrie. “Once people eat our asparagus, they won’t buy it at the supermarket.”
They’ve already distributed about 1,000 copies of the Buy Local! Buy Fresh! map at Barrie’s Farm because asparagus is the first crop of the season, so they starts seeing customers before many other growers.
“I made them practically Number 1 on my drop-off point for that very reason,” says Anna Contini, project co-ordinator for Foodlink Waterloo Region, the not-for-profit agency behind the map. “People seem to be used to going there for their maps.”
Foodlink will launch the map’s 10th anniversary edition at the St Jacob’s Market this Saturday. Distributed for free at participating farms, markets, local libraries and by advertisers, the guide helps Waterloo Region residents sniff out the bounty of fresh, local food in their backyards.
But its long-term success demonstrates an appetite for local food that has spread beyond the map’s boundaries. In fact, Buy Local! Buy Fresh! has been so successful for regional farmers that the logo and concept have been licensed out to communities across Canada.
Since inception, the map’s size has doubled, its design has been refined, and it’s now funded largely by advertisers involved with local food. The number of featured farmers has climbed from 30 to 74 despite the $150 fee ($125 for an early-bird rate). In its first year, 20,000 copies circulated throughout the region; this year, Foodlink printed 40,000.
“They all get used. It really is a highly sought-after commodity,” says Contini.
Buy Local! Buy Fresh! started in 2002 as part of an effort to promote locally sourced food by Region of Waterloo Public Health, under the rationale that local food is sustainable, economically beneficial and builds a sense of community, all of which contribute to overall well-being. Since then, Foodlink has branched off from the region. It’s now an independent not-for-profit that promotes local food with the map, runs a Taste Local! Taste Fresh! Event every September, and offers a searchable, online database of local-food information, sources and recipes.
“That message of ‘there are amazing sources of local foods right next to you,’ they’ve really done well at getting that out there,” says Marc Xuereb, public health planner with Region of Waterloo Public Health. He adds that the local food trend that blossomed along with the map isn’t going anywhere soon.
“I think it goes hand-in-hand with the growing popularity of food localism,” explains Contini. “The timing has been right.”
Barrie praises Peter Katona, Foodlink’s first executive director, for his efforts to promote local food and support local farmers. Since Katona grew up on a farm and now works as the marketing and sales manager of Martin’s Family Fruit Farm, Barrie says he understood his needs. He calls Katona a “local-food pioneer” and says “he’s done more for local food than anyone else in Ontario.”
The region’s mix of city and rural living made it the perfect place to launch the program, according to Contini. As more urbanites and chefs embrace local food, the map helps them find it.
For chefs and retailers who seek the good things that grow in Ontario, the 2011 Buy Local! Buy Fresh! map includes a wholesale icon in its legend. Barrie’s Farm gets one. Borealis Grille & Bar uses its asparagus tortillas along with its asparagus; the farm also takes orders from Wildcraft Grill & Bar, Vincenzo’s, Bogey’s Rustic Grill, and Seven Shores Urban Market & CafĂ©, to name a few.
“[The map] is useful not only for consumers, but for chefs or retail operations wanting to source a particular product,” says Contini.
But it’s not just locals who seek the map.
“Culinary tourism is growing,” says Contini. “The farms that have really capitalized on that, for lack of a better word, are also offering extra things.”
Back at Barrie’s Farm, he’s planning to do just that. Last year, the farm held its first-ever Asparagus Festival on Canada Day.
In partnership with M&M Meat Shops, Broil King and Bauer, the farm raised $11,000 for the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre. This year, Barrie plans to bring back the petting zoo, auction and barbecue to mark the traditional end of the asparagus season in Ontario.
acsanady@therecord.com


This is a fantastic initiative. I've been using the growers map for a number of years and you will see many of my food adventures will be to the locations charted... like Barries Asparagus Farm - featured in this article.
Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bitofthis Soup

It's Tuesday, yesterday was a long weekend. The house was full of little people and lots of appetite. Now my fridge is full of plastic. Tablespoons of this and baggies of that. Half an onion sliced for hamburgers, left over roasted potatoes, those slightly over done spears of asparagus and more.

I'm tired and those leftovers need to be re-created...time for Bitofthis Soup. (my Aunt used to call this Hannibal Stew, long before Silence of the Lambs, I've since adjusted the name.)

So down from the cupboard comes the crockpot. Into the crock goes A Little Bit of This...A Little Bit of That. Selectively of course, flavours still have to get along.

In today's Bitofthis soup

Asparagus
Potatoes
corn
peas
onions
chicken stock

I let it cook. When I get home from work I wizz it up in the blender and make a delicious cream soup. I would eat bowls and bowls of creamy goodness, Michael likes a little variation in texture. I brown up sausage, diced carrots and shallots. Into the soup they go.

Full bowls steaming on the table and amazingly fresh Italian bread. Dinner is done and delicious. The fridge is cleaned out for the week to come. Zero stress and effort.

The only problem is that Bitofthis Soup never tastes the same way twice.

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ahhhhsparagus!

We are so lucky to live in the heart of Ontario. People understand that Ontario is the great 'province of industry, finance and commerce'. We are home to head offices of all number of national brands and services. We are home to the internationally acclaimed cities of Toronto and Ottawa. Something not a lot of people realize about Ontario however is that all of this industry and commerce is nestled within a vast network of agricultural odyssey. I quite literally could stop at a farm on the way home from my downtown office and pick up something fresh for dinner. I don't mean a farm stand or 'farm style' corner market, I mean an actual honest to goodness smell the manure farm.

15 - 20 minutes in any direction from our front door will land us on the doorstep of freshness. Eggs, pork, beef, Muscovy duck, apples, pumpkins, onions, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, Bison, Emu, Ostrich, honey, goat, beans, carrots, strawberries, organic milks and cheeses, the list is endless. Endless but with a beginning. For me the beginning is Asparagus. I can find the perfect vegetable 10 minutes from my door at Barries Farm. The family offers fresh Asparagus by the pound. This year a pound will cost you $2.85. It is plump and sweet and juicy. It tastes like you would expect green to taste if it were a flavour, sunshine and fresh grass mixed with the earthy under tone of rich soil.

I bought 3 lbs. today. I should have bought more for freezing but I lack the time to get the job done this weekend. So 3 lbs. was the number. We ate 1 lb. raw on the drive home and I cooked up the remaining 2 lbs. for dinner.

Barries has a very expanded offering this year of fare from neighbouring farms, meats, cheeses and  and their own home preserved asparagus recipes, pickles, chutney's, soups, asparagus crackers, salsa and tortilla chips. I escaped the farm gate with restraint, my asparagus, a dozen gorgeous brown eggs and a generous bouquet of ruby coloured rhubarb.

At home KJ helped me prepare fresh schnitzel. We experimented with a mix of panko and Italian style bread crumbs for coating. The result was a fabulous coating with a great crispiness. I imagine it would be perfect for chicken but it was a little too far removed from the traditional German offering my kids and Michael expect. We pan toasted orzo and allowed it to soak up ladle fulls of chicken stock, finished with butter and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. The crowning glory was the gently steamed asparagus dressed with butter and salt. I like to share the squeeze of lemon intended for the schnitzel with my asparagus.

The results were Delicious.


I do think that an investment in an asparagus steamer would be money well spent. I cook them very quickly in a large pot with just enough water to wet the bottom of the pot and create steam for cooking. The bottom stalks however always get just a little too much and overcook. Tomorrow those stalks will meet a soup pot.

For my friends close enough to visit Barries you can find details and directions on their Blog http://barriesasparagus.blogspot.com/


Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Eat, I Cook, I Write, I Laugh, I Don't Do Dishes...explained

By nurture, I am a foodophile. This I am very aware stems from many summers spent in my grandfather's garden and in my grandmother's apron pocket. I have grown, harvested and prepared real food. I've spilled peas in the grass and eaten carrots covered in dirt. I know what true food tastes like.

Good food captures my attention. I eat

When I was old enough to reach the stove top I took up the cooking challenge. Partially out of curiosity, partially out of necessity. I was twelve, circumstances found me with two younger brothers staving at the hands of a college age babysitter who couldn't burn toast, it was cook or die. I survived and married a man who appreciates fabulous food.

Great food captures my imagination. I cook.

By nature I am a wordophile. The source of this love of words is not so easy to pinpoint, although I suspect it to be a splinter from my father's branch of the tree. Our home is littered with words, many of them captured in cookbooks and food magazines. I reached a point last fall that I needed a place to store my words; I began The Space Between Raindrops a blog devoted to capturing my family's gratitude.

Words collect in my brain and clutter my thoughts. I write.

The Space Between Raindrops is meant to shine a light on the things my family and I are grateful for. It was an eventuallity that I needed to start devoting a day each week to my love of all things gastronomical; Tuesday - Fooddays. Asparagus is officially in season in our region, tomorrow is my annual pilgrimage to the asparagus farm. After asparagus comes rhubarb, strawberries, beans, peas, onions. The Space Between Raindrops is in danger of loosing its identity and morphing into a food blog.

Writing about food ignites a passion, I love my Gratitude blog. Smothered in Butter will be devoted to food.

Life is a challenge. We are a busy family with appointments and classes, sports and meetings. We have drama and bills just like everyone else. There is enough to be serious about. Food should be a source of joy, an excuse to interact, Cooking is fabulous therapy.

How you approach life is a choice. I laugh.

We all have things we detest. If we are lucky, we live or work with people we can source those tasks to. I don't do dishes.

Smothered in Butter is actually a selfish endeavour, a place to indulge my need to create, a place to record my culinary findings and share my love of cooking and great food. There will be pieces like those you can read from the links to the right. there will be recounts of meals and reports on my experience preparing the recipes from the stars of the culinary world. Of course I'm looking forward to recording the wonders of my farm visits. Like a great meal I'm going to start with a really great inspiration and build the flavour, the menu and the complexity. I can't wait to see what hits the table when it all comes together.

Food is always at it's best when it is presented to an appreciative audience. I'd love for you to follow along, share your thoughts and tips.

First food post will be tomorrow. As long as the sun is shining I'm off to the Asparagus Farm, but only of the sun is shining, I've learned from my asparagus farmer that the best and sweetest asparagus is not picked on a gloomy day.

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle