7.31.2008

picture it, Sicily, ...

video


I'm way behind on my pop culture news. I just found out Estelle Getty died on July 22nd. I'm feeling a little sad and nostalgic for M.G. and M.G. (who share not only initials but a love for all things awesome), with whom I used to enjoy Golden Girls marathons...

My friend S used to play a game in which she tried to figure out which Golden Girl each woman in our group was most like. The debate invariably started with a number of drinks, and the sentence "well, L, you're obviously Sophia, but who's ..."

7.28.2008

she got to use what she got to get what she wants ...

Hot pants!

No, sorry, not hot pants. Mr. Brown would be so unimpressed. But to be honest, my trunk-junk would inspire no one to say "holy hot damn, I gotta get that lady what she needs".

But I've got kiwis, so I do for myself.

Today's the day I decided that a lack of unsweetened kiwi jam in the store didn't have to mean a lack of unsweetened kiwi jam in my belly.

Cuz, well, I have a kitchen, don't I? And the addition of sugar to fruit is an abomination. A travesty. Not happening on my watch.

And also because when it comes to jams, baby, I likes it raw -- it was time to experiment with refrigerator/freezer jamming methods. [I should also probably mention that I have a small fear of canning/home preserving. I've done it many a time without issue, but too many stories of botulism and 'splosions make me hesitant to do it except when absolutely necessary.]

So, I gave it a shot. And it worked. And so I give you (and me ... mostly me) fresh refrigerator kiwi jam. And the world is a better place for it.


Because the fabulous Mr. John P. requested instructions, here they be.

** caveat :: giving instructions for this seems silly, as it's really the most straightforward thing in the world. I was lucky enough to score a very small amount of Instant Clear Jel from my friendly neighbourhood Asian grocer (the last of his supply! mercy...). It's not available in reasonable amounts for public use in Canada yet, and so I'm waiting until I can get some more, at which point I'll be experimenting with other flavours, textures, etc etc etc. I have big plans for donut-peach-and-ginger jam, and some gelled chutneys, and and and ... I also may try methods using agar agar in the interim. Yes, I have the jamming bug. But for now, here's the master... **

Kiwi refrigerator / freezer jam (unsweetened)

what you need ...

1 kilo of good, extra ripe kiwis
1/3 c. Instant Clear Jel
optional: stevia or sugar or other sweetener of choice, to taste (but then, of course, it won't be unsweetened, now, will it?)

what you do ...

Peel and roughly chop kiwis, then liquefy in your blender or food processor. Measure out 4 cups of the goo and transfer to a large bowl. Sprinkle Clear Jel over top and start stirring/whisking. I ended up stirring the jam for about 10 minutes, I don't know if longer or shorter is recommended, but there you have it. If your fruit is super juicy, add a bit more Jel (yay, common sense and personal judgment).

Let sit about 10 minutes, then once the jam has thickened considerably, pour it into sterilized jars and refrigerate or freeze right away. I got two 500 mL jars out of this, plus maybe a 1/3 c. which went into the little cruet.

All fresh, unpreserved jams will stay in the fridge for about 3 weeks, and months and months in the freezer.

7.22.2008

I love it when mother nature cooperates ...

Yesterday I got home from work and, as usual, immediately de-bloused and headed out to the garden to weed and water and talk smack with my babies. For my troubles, I was rewarded with a few handfuls of yellow beans, about 2 kilos of gorgeous zucchini, bunch upon bunch of fresh basil and oregano and parsley, a couple pints worth of beautiful cherry tomatoes, and some lovely mixed greens and chicory.

My brain started churning over possibilities for the zucchini. I’ve been eating kawaj koosa (Lebanese stewed zucchini and tomatoes) pretty much weekly since the Great Zucchini Flood of ’08 first got underway, as well as raw zucchini spirals with home made marinara, zucchini salads, and zucchini stiryfrys. What I was really in the mood for was some roasted zucchini. But in this weather?

I decided to chance it.

After puttering around in my kitchen for a bit, I realized I had about 200 g. of purple shallots hanging out in my onion crock that wouldn’t be so happy in a couple days, and the deal was sealed. I threw veggies and herbs and seasonings in a massive Tupperware, sealed her up and threw her in the fridge to get all friendly-like over night. Then I crossed my fingers and hoped to hell it would be cool enough to turn on the oven when I got home the next night.

Well hot damn if mother nature didn’t decide to smile on me for once. That’s not to say I didn’t earn it – I spent all of today sitting in the university library scrolling through newspapers on microfiche for a work project, while the young woman at the machine next to me hummed along with her ipod and picked her nose. So, I like to think I took one for the team and the team noticed.

All that to present you with an entirely unattractive meal. Bet you’re happy you checked in today, aren’t you? The fact of cooking, as I’m sure you’re all well aware, is that even the tastiest stuff isn’t always all that photogenic. Hell, it doesn’t even necessarily look good in person. This is one of those dishes that looks good through tequila-goggles and quickly runs for the exit when the bartender screams last call and turns on the ugly lights. It’s the baby whose mother thinks she’s just the sweetest thing, but everyone else can only muster a she’s got character. I promise my next baby will be more of a looker.

I feel silly even giving a recipe for this, but really – it’s tasty and simple, and if you’ve got a ridiculous amount of zucchini at your back door it’s one of a million great ways to use it up…



white balsamic, agave, and fresh herb roasted garden veggies

what you need …

200 g. (ish) shallots, peeled, larger bulbs halved, small left whole
20 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
2 c. yellow beans, chopped
4 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and thickly sliced
a couple handfuls large cherry tomatoes
1 c. fresh basil, en chiffonade (loosely packed)
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano
2 tsp. agave nectar (I like amber agave)
3 – 4 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar *
½ tsp. sea salt
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
lightly toasted pine nuts, flax oil (optional)

what you do …

Combine veggies in a large Tupperware container, mix with herbs, then toss with agave, balsamic, salt, and pepper. Seal and stick in the fridge to marinate over night (shake it a couple times if you think of it).

The next day, turn your broiler on at 400°F, throw the veggies in a large roasting pan, and set them on a rack in the upper-third of your oven. That’s it. Check ’em and mix ’em up occasionally while they’re roasting.

Serve tossed with lightly toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of flax oil (for those healthy, tasty omegas).

* you can of course use regular balsamic vinegar, but (caveat lector) it will colour the veggies.

7.18.2008

hot days, cold foods ...

The temperature here has been pretty unrelentingly brutal of late, and so the idea of eating anything cooked just isn’t doing it for me. With all the fresh gorgeous local produce showing up at my local organic pushers and my garden getting into the swing of things, I’m not complaining. I’ve been happily living on salads and raw fruits and berries and veggies, and my brain’s been occupied with a mess of random-firing new recipe ideas that will help me put the bounty to good use.

Friday night a few friends came over for some feasting and relaxing, as is our wont. J and B are the best dinner guests a girl could hope for – they’ll eat anything you put in front of them, do it with a smile, and never balk at the lack of animal-y ingredients. I decided to go with a couple old hot-day standbys, gazpacho and carrot salad. Being a person who can’t not mess with a good thing, and being rich in fresh basil this time of year, the classic Spanish cold soup recipe went through a number of costume changes, crossed the Mediterranean, and landed on the shores of Italy. And the carrot salad, well… it just got extra sweet. And beta-full. I'm pretty sure I'll wake up in the morning with x-ray vision.



Italian gazpacho

what you need …

4 medium, very ripe tomatoes, chopped (about 3 ¼ c.)
1 small red onion, chopped (about ¾ c.)
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped (about 1 c.)
1 c. English cucumber, unpeeled, chopped
1 c. zucchini, unpeeled, chopped
½ c. celery, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 c. home made salt-free veggie stock (can use good-quality store-bought)
1 c. fresh basil, chopped and loosely packed
1 tsp. fresh oregano
½ tsp. sea salt (if using a salted stock you may want to reduce this or omit entirely)
¼ tsp. ground white pepper
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp. good, strong extra virgin olive oil (optional, but recommended)
lemon slices, more fresh basil

what you do …

Combine tomatoes, onions, garlic, veggie stock, herbs, pepper, vinegars, and olive oil (if using) in food processor and purée until liquefied.

Add the rest of the veggies and pulse through until desired consistency is reached

Taste before adding salt, then go to town if you think it needs it.

Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving, and preferably overnight. When serving, ladle into chilled bowls and top with fresh basil en chiffonade.



sweet and simple carrot-beet salad

what you need …

2 medium beets, peeled and grated
5 large carrots (just over 1 lb.), scrubbed and grated, excess juice squeezed out *
1/2 c. raisins (I like jumbo Chilean flame raisins, but thompsons are good, too)
8-10 unsulphured dried apricots, slivered
1/2 c. freshly squeezed orange juice, pulp and all
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger
1 Tbsp. orange zest
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/3 c. dry-roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds (I just get the raw ones and toast them myself)

what you do …

Throw carrots, beets, and dried fruit into a large bowl** and mix well.

Combine orange juice, lemon juice, ginger, orange zest, and salt in a jar, shake well, and let sit 10 minutes. Once the 10's up, shake it again and pour over salad, tossing to distribute.

Cover bowl and let sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour to chill and allow flavours to marry. If you think of it, take it out and toss it every 15 minutes or so to make sure everything gets equally juicy

Serve topped with sunflower seeds.

* this step is important, as otherwise your salad will end up a little on the soupy side

** make sure to use non-reactive (ie glass, enamel, etc.) bowls for this recipe



Seeing as my Italian gazpacho recipe was birthed out of a desire to showcase the fresh basil being belched out of my veggie patch at an alarming rate, it fits the bill for this month's No Croutons Required challenge being hosted by Holler over at Tinned Tomatoes, and I humbly submit to her judgment.

7.16.2008

garlic scape and coriander chutney


I was first introduced to garlic scapes (and ramps, and lambs’ quarters, and so many other fabulous forage-ables this country has to offer) about 14 years ago while doing my counselor’s training at Au Grand Bois - a vegan not-for-profit summer camp in Québec. The camp was an amazing place, run by back-to-the-land draft-dodgers from the States, which has sadly since closed its doors. The focus was on sustainable living, with solar -powered and –heated everything, where campers and staff were encouraged to learn about organic agriculture by working in one of the many gardens.

I’ve been a garlic lover all my life, having been force-fed it since birth both as a food and a medicine by my grandmother, who rubbed it on our bee stings to ease the pain, made poultices with it to reduce swelling, and swore that a raw clove of garlic every morning was far better than an apple a day [everyone, myself included, thought she was crazy. Lo, years later, it is considered a nutritional wonder-food, with emerging research touting its cardiovascular, antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic benefits. Once again proving that my grandmother is a genius. All the kids in my grade school who called me a stinky Leb can suck it.] I thought I knew everything there was to know about this pungent gift from the gods (being a teenager and knowing everything about everything, period, probably didn't hurt) from my grandmother's teachings, however she had never once mentioned that not only were the green garlic shoots edible, but tasty to boot.

So you can imagine my surprise when one of the farmers at Au Grand Bois snapped off a tall, green, curly shoot from the garlic patch and told me to munch away. But I did. And if I could remember his name I’d send him a case of rye every summer when the first scapes show up at the market (if anyone knows a middle-aged blonde hippie who lives out of a VW Westfalia and has a kid named Merlin, give him a high-five for me).

With scapes making their brief and long-awaited appearance at the organics stall of the farmer’s market, and coriander threatening to take over my garden, it was the perfect time to make one of my all-time favourite condiments – garlic scape and coriander chutney. If you’re finding yourself facing the same wonderful predicament, give it a shot. If you like things that are spicy and flavourful and look like radioactive toxic waste but taste like heaven, then you shouldn’t be disappointed.

garlic scape and coriander chutney

what you need …

2 c. (packed) fresh coriander, leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped
1 c. garlic scapes, topped and chopped
2 medium fresh green chilis, seeded and chopped
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
1/2 a small white onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
1 lime, juiced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
a few turns freshly ground black pepper

what you do …

Heat a dry skillet over medium-high and roast the cumin until fragrant, watching closely to ensure it doesn’t burn. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until puréed, stopping frequently to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Use as you would any other spicy chutney, or eat it with a spoon. Should last about a week.

* This chutney, as most others, is best if made at least a few hours, and preferably a day, before you plan to eat it to allow the flavours a chance to get all friendly.


This is my first cooking related / recipe post, and it just happens to be herb friendly, so in the spirit of "if-you're-gonna-do-it-overdo-it" I'm submitting it to the Weekend Herb Blogging event, which this week is being hosted by Archana's Kitchen.


Oh, and --- I picked the first cherry tomatoes of the season in my garden today. I'm geeking out hard.

7.13.2008

how does your garden grow?


Organically, for starters. And well, thank you for asking. Very, very well, if I may be such a braggart.

Some people are born with silver spoons tucked into their arsenal for surviving the world. Some with horseshoes up their asses. Others are born with an artist’s eye.

Me, I was born with a green thumb. Two of ’em. And fingers, too, I suspect. The horticultural equivalent of the Midas Touch, if you will, minus all the curse-related nonsense and cautionary tales (I may rethink this if my giant zucchini plants ever start walking menacingly towards me).

I’m the girl always foraging in the market stalls for the most depressed, decrepit plants to take home. My apartments have always looked like rooming houses for misfit flora. People have always brought me their sad, dead vegetation and asked me to work my zombie magic, which I’m more than happy to do. But there’s not a chance in hell I’d ever return the abused specimen to their bloodied hands after I’ve nursed it back to health.

cherry tomatoes

first raspberries of the season

Growing up, I’d helped my paternal grandmother with her veggie patch. Immediately upon moving from Lebanon to Canada some 50 years ago she had started shoveling manure in order to grow anything and everything she possibly could that couldn’t be found at the time in her new country (like garlic, the lack of which is for me unimaginable). She turned her backyard in downtown Ottawa into an organic mini-farm, filled with wild grapes (both for the fruit and leaves), Lebanese cucumbers and zucchini, flat beans, tomatoes, peas, onions, garlic, lettuce, parsley, chickpeas, chard, mint, spinach, and even a peach tree. The garden’s still there, although now it’s tended by my aunts as my grandmother’s mobility is limited (but don’t think that stops her from sitting on the porch and directing operations).

Armenian cucumbers

baby green zebra tomatoes

incredibly phallic-looking zucchini

When I was planning my move out here at the end of last summer, one of my biggest requirements was finding an apartment with enough outdoor space that I could have a small vegetable garden, even if only a container garden. While phone-interviewing from Ottawa with my future landlord/neighbour, I asked if she’d mind me filling my porch to overflowing with vegetables. Mind? She told me that she and her husband had been wanting to put in an organic vegetable garden in their massive yard ever since they’d bought their house, but had no idea how to go about doing it.

mixed baby heirloom lettuces

coriander

The rest, as they say, is tasty tasty history …

I sourced out local and online organic and heirloom seed suppliers, and started my seeds indoors in late winter to be ready for the short growing season in our zone. In the spring we built three raised beds using non-pressure-treated cedar posts, figuring that would be a good start to expand on in coming years, and filled them with organic topsoil and organic composted sheep manure.

parsley

Genovese basil

yellow wax bush beans

For my first garden in this new climate, I decided to stick with what I knew. My planting list included 5 types of heirloom tomatoes ("tumbler" cherry tomatoes, green zebra, yellow pear, crimean red, and beefsteak), red peppers, 3 zucchinis (black king heirlooms), 2 Armenian cucumbers (sadly, I couldn't find organic Lebanese cucumbers this year), yellow wax beans (again, sadly, couldn't find organic Lebanese loubieh, also known as roma bush beans, in time), eggplant, 5 curly parsley (to feed my tabouleh addiction), green onions, carrots, mixed chicory, mixed heirloom baby greens, and various herbs (Genovese basil, oregano, coriander, mint, chives) to complement the garden's already established rhubarb and raspberry patches.

Next year, if I'm still around, we plan to expand and add garlic, red onions, sweet and red potatoes, Lebanese cucumbers and zucchini, loubieh, pear and cherry trees, spinach, romaine, and rainbow chard to the mix.

red peppers, still green

I brushed up on companion planting, get down and dirty with weeding and maintenance daily after work, and everything seems to be happy and thriving in the pesticide-free set-up. Also doesn't hurt to have a little helper --- the landlords'/neighbours' little girl gets a kick out of helping with the watering.

At this point, I'm harvesting zucchinis and raspberries, and cherry tomatoes will start being ready this week. All the herbs and greens/chicory I've had to harvest pretty much every other day for the last month, and I've been getting upwards of 2 pounds of parsley weekly (my iron levels, I'm sure, have never been higher).

So ... after all that --- how does your garden grow?

7.12.2008

every mother a willing mother, every child a wanted child.... some day.

Until I moved to parts (further) East last year, I always viewed contention and debate surrounding the legality of abortion in Canada as somewhat akin to the flogging of dead livestock.

Abortion was decriminalized way back in 1988 after the Supreme Court of Canada had, in its infinite wisdom, declared criminal restrictions on access to abortion unconstitutional under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as they directly infringe upon a woman’s s.7 right not to be deprived of life, liberty, and security of the person.

Framed in the language of human rights, a woman’s right to choose whether or not to proceed with a pregnancy wasn’t going to be taken away any time soon, as far as I could tell, and so the debates and protests (and those offensive, inaccurate and misleading pro-life posters gracing the bus shelters outside Morgentaler clinics) were an exercise in ridiculousness. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say that folks should ever stop engaging in rational debate or logical ranting sessions (how else would I justify my existence? How else would we keep our brains svelte and shiny?), but did anyone really think that any government would have the stones to re-write the Constitution to exclude women as deserving of security, life and liberty? Did that old man (by pure chromosomal slip incapable of ever having to cope with an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy of his own) with the megaphone and the sandwich board depicting an aborted fetus seriously think that marching around Parliament Hill at noon would cause the government to snap and, 20 years later, force the SCC to revisit their decision? It seemed pretty clear that threats to the right to access abortion were only so much toothless growling used to intimidate women already faced with difficult decisions.

But then I moved to New Brunswick, and enter ridiculousness.

In Ontario, where I’m from, abortion is (rightfully – check out the latest WHO stats on worldwide unsafe abortions and mortality rates) classed as a medically necessary procedure (as it is in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec (in-hospital), and Newfoundland) and thus covered under the provincial health insurance plan. The procedure is performed in a number of public hospitals in the province as well as (at last count) eight private clinics, at no charge to the patient, in compliance with the Canada Health Act. While by no means perfect – a large number of Ontario hospitals equipped to provide abortions do not do so – Ontario at least respects its mandate of providing these services as a part of its duty to public, comprehensive, universal, portable, and accessible health care.

In New Brunswick, public health insurance will only pay for a woman’s abortion if it’s performed in a hospital by a certified gynaecologist. Oh, and the woman will need to provide testimonials from two physicians who believe that the procedure is medically necessary. Only two of New Brunswick’s 28 hospitals provide abortion services. The only other option for a woman looking to terminate a pregnancy is to visit the one lonely Morgantaler clinic in the province (in Fredericton), on her own dime, to the tune of approximately $550 - $750.

[If you think that’s the worst of it, check out Prince Edward Island. On PEI, the government decided, and still stands by its decision, that no abortions would be performed on the Island. Islanders have to travel out of province, at their own expense, if they want to terminate a pregnancy (unless the abortion is declared medically necessary, and pre-authorized and approved by the government). To make matters worse, the PEI Abortion Information Line, to assist Islanders seeking abortion information and resources, closed down at the beginning of the year due to lack of funding. And don’t even get me started on Nunavut – that such a remote territory would deny its people abortion access is something else altogether.]

Having not grown up under a rock (I guess majoring in human rights and law in university didn’t hurt, either), I was not so blissfully naïve as to assume that everyone enjoyed the same access to all rights across the country. While everyone in Canada is equal before and under the law (ahem, how is it the Indian Act has survived the Charter? I’ll save everything that’s wrong with this offensive, damaging, and debilitating piece of legislation for another epic post) well … to paraphrase the oft-quoted Mr. Orwell - some folks are just a hell of a lot more equal than others.

All this long, rambling introduction to say that while I sure as hell am not big on borders and nationalism, choosing to spend Canada Day puttering in my garden and reading in my yard rather than getting liquored and wrapping myself in flags with the rest of the young’uns, this year I had reason to pour myself some rye and toast a national hero. Had I still been living in Ottawa on July 1st of this year when Governor General Michaëlle Jean appointed Dr. Henry Morgentaler as a Member of the Order of Canada, I would have celebrated, yes. But perhaps not as, um, emotionally as I did in my adoptive Maritime home. I told myself I was girding up for the inevitable fallout I would be forced to slog through over the next weeks and months. Gathering liquid strength, if you will.

See, had I still been living in Ottawa, not knowing all the depressing facts I now know about the state of abortion access in the Maritime provinces, I could open the newpapers every morning, read through all the innumerable articles and letters denouncing the appointment and insulting one of my heroes, and chuckle about all the silly pro-lifers out there who are still under the illusion that a woman’s right to reproductive choice is up for debate. I could read through all the positive reactions to the appointment and feel pretty good about being a Canadian. I could revel in the fact that 3 out of 5 of those who share this country with me are in support Dr. Morgentaler’s appointment.

Being so entrenched in the women’s equality movement in the Maritimes, and learning all I’ve learned, I have lost this luxury. Where a right is not freely enjoyed by all due to barriers to access experienced by any, there is no enjoyment of the right. The right becomes formal rather than substantive. At the risk of spinning in philosophical circles - a freedom from prosecution for seeking enjoyment of the right when one has not the means, or indeed must provide the means oneself, to actualize the enjoyment of said right is not actual enjoyment. And so instead of a self-satisfied grin, a raised glass, and little attention paid to the negative backlash, I instead find myself clenching my jaw, fists balled, steeling myself for further actions which need to be taken to ensure equitable access to abortion for all women across Canada.

We, like most countries, have a terrible habit of recognizing our society’s more controversial champions only after they are long dead (ahem, Manitoba introduced Louis Riel day in … 2008?) and so I’m thrilled to see Dr. Morgentaler honoured during his lifetime for everything he’s accomplished, and the sacrifices he’s made, as a militant ally in the women’s struggle for control over our bodies. And if there’s anywhere in this country where women need to rejoice in the positive reinforcement for our fight that this honour brings, it’s the Maritimes. It is a reminder that we can not be complacent or we are complicit in our own oppression. By standing in support of the Good Doctor, and applauding the Order’s Advisory Council for their choice in appointing him, we not only recognize the great distance we have come but also the lengths still to go until we can say, without reservation, that in our country every mother is a willing mother and every child is a wanted child.