Saturday 28 May 2011

Fairburn Farm

I found myself on Koksilah Road yesterday afternoon and curiosity prompted me to turn off onto a side road and follow the signs to “Historic Fairburn Farm.”  I followed the road for quite some way, past the “No Through Road” sign and up to the end of the pavement.  I would have turned back at that point if it were not for another sign that said “You’re almost there.”  I followed the twists and turns of the gravel road to its very end, and there I found the farm.

I’ve rarely been in a setting as tranquil as that of Fairburn Farm.  Living as I do at the corner of a busy intersection, I tend to forget what quiet means.  The farm reminded me.  It possesses quiet in abundance; enough quiet that I could hear the breeze in the maple trees and take time to appreciate being surrounded by birdsong.  It’s very beautiful there and I was filled almost immediately with a sense tranquility.  It was wonderful.

Had I visited the Fairburn Farm website before making my impulsive visit, I would have read that they don’t encourage drop in visitors.  Despite its tranquil setting, the farm is a working enterprise.  They like to know when visitors are coming so that they can make room in their busy schedules to welcome them.  I did eventually find Darrel Archer (one of the farm’s owners) though, and he told me a little about the place.

Fairburn Farm was established in 1886 and has been in continuous operation ever since.  It’s been in the hands of the Archer family since 1955.  Since 1980, it’s been run by Darrel and his wife Anthea, as a mixed farming and guest operation.  Their daughter and son—Maryann and Richard—joined the business in 2008.

In 2000, Darrel and Anthea imported a herd of 19 water buffalo from Denmark. Sadly, shortly after the herd was imported a Danish cow was diagnosed with BSE (Mad Cow Disease) and, as a result, their entire original herd was slaughtered.  Testing of the slaughtered livestock showed that they were free of any infection so the Archer’s started over with the Canadian offspring of their original herd and, despite the terrible setback, they have established a successful dairy operation.[i]  

Water buffalo milk is extremely nutritious, with 58% more calcium and 40% more protein than cow’s milk.  It’s a rich source of phosphorous, iron, Vitamin A, and protein, and it contains the antioxidant tocopheral.  Its levels of oxygen are typically 2 to 4 times that of cow’s milk and its levels of cholesterol are 43% lower.  Buffalo milk is easily digested, even by people with cow’s milk allergies, and it’s high in milk solids so it makes excellent yogurt and cheese.  Pretty impressive. 

Fairburn Farm sells their buffalo milk to Natural Pastures Cheese Company in Courtenay, where it is made into Mozzarella di bufala.  This wonderful cheese is sold throughout most of BC and also in Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.  Look for it next time you are grocery shopping or visiting a farmer’s market.

[i] Fairburn Farm notes on their website (,23) that there are no incidents of BSE in water buffalo anywhere in the world.

Friday 27 May 2011

Fish and Chips

We went to the Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria yesterday and, while we were there, stopped to have a late lunch.  The setting was wonderful but our fish and chips were both expensive and mediocre.  They weren’t terrible or anything,—no dripping oil or soggy batter—they were just unremarkable. 

Living on Vancouver Island, with Victoria nearby, it’s not surprising that fish and chips are on our menu several times a year.  Nor is it surprising that we’re picky about the way it’s cooked and served.  After all, Victoria can be more English than England and the island is surrounded by water abundant with fish. 

Still, yesterday’s meal got me thinking:  What makes a good plate of fish and chips? 

Local fish is an excellent place to start.  Depending upon where you are in the world, fish and chips can be made from cod, halibut, haddock, plaice, pollock, whiting, barramundi, shark, flounder, or even catfish.  Whatever firm white fish is locally available and in season can be pressed into service for this dish.  As long as it’s fresh, sustainable, and local, it’s likely to be a good choice.

The fat the fish and chips are fried in is very important.  The first fish and chips vendors fried their fish in either beef drippings or lard.  Lard still makes an excellent choice because it adds a fine flavour to the finished dish, but I don’t recommend buying it commercially processed.  The lard you find on your grocery store shelves is partially hydrogenated to extend its shelf life.  The same is true of most lard you buy at the butcher’s shop.  If you are going to fry with lard, take the time to render it yourself.  If this seems like too much work, then opt for more convenient (but less flavourful) canola or peanut oil. 

The batter used on the fish needs some consideration too.  Traditionally, fish and chip batter is either made from a combination of water, flour, baking soda and vinegar, or from flour and beer.  Either option will provide carbonation that serves to lighten the texture of the finished product.  The batter should be kept very cold and the fish should be dredged lightly in flour before it’s battered.

A correct cooking temperature is essential.  If the oil is too cold, the fish will be soggy and oily.  If the oil is too hot, the fish will not be cooked through.  If you start with your oil at about 360ºF, it will decrease to about 350º once the fish is dropped in.  That’s pretty nearly exactly right.  The fish should be cooked until it’s golden brown on both sides.

Proper seasoning is important.   Season the fish and chips with salt and pepper as soon as they come out of the fryer, while they are still slightly moist and will hold on to the seasoning.

Thick cut potato chips that are crispy outside and light and fluffy inside are the essential other half of your plate.  They need to be chunkier than American fries and they need to be soaked in ice water for at least an hour before they’re cooked.  When it’s time to cook them, you must pat them completely dry and then fry them twice:  First for 5 minutes at 350ºF and then again at 375º, to crisp the outside of the chips and give them colour.

In an ideal world, this perfect meal of fish and chips would be served wrapped in white paper and then in newsprint, both to keep it warm and to blot up any excess oil.  It would be accompanied by malt vinegar, tartar sauce, and crispy coleslaw and it would be eaten while still piping hot.  I can see it (and taste it) in my imagination now.

What’s your favourite fish and chips shop?  And where would you most like to enjoy that fish and chips meal?

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Mad Scientist Meatloaf

Some time ago I bought a quantity of pastrami, planning to use it for one of my lunches.  When I got it home I discovered that although it tasted quite good, it was tough and a little dry; not up to my lunch service standards.  I’m way too frugal to throw meat out so I stuck it in my freezer with a mental pledge to find some way to use it later on. 

Today was “later on.”  I'm not working right now so I have some extra time to experiment in the kitchen.  (My husband calls these ventures into the unknown my “mad scientist experiments,” hence the name of the dish.)  I decided to find a way to incorporate the pastrami into a meatloaf.

To start, I ground the pastrami (about 400 grams) finely in my food processor.

Next, I added some foccaccia crumbs.

I added two eggs and a pound of lean ground beef.

Then I used my food processor to finely grind a red onion, some celery, and some bread and butter pickles.  I added the ground vegetables to the bowl together with some Worcestershire sauce, a generous amount of salt and pepper, and a little allspice.

When I mixed the ingredients together, I found that the mixture was too dry so I added about ½ cup of buttermilk and another egg.  I formed the resulting mixture into a loaf and put it in a preheated 350 degree oven.

While the meatloaf was baking, I made a glaze.  I combined 6 Tbsp. ketchup, 5 tsp. dry mustard, and ¼ c. of brown sugar.  I mixed it until it was smooth and then tasted it.  It tasted too mustard-y to me, and not quite deep enough, so I added another 2 Tbsp. of ketchup and 2 Tbsp. molasses.

When the meatloaf had cooked for 30 minutes, I took it out of the oven and covered it liberally with the glaze.  I put it back in to bake for another 30 minutes and then let it rest for 10 minutes before serving it.  It was yummy.

If I had to change anything at all in this recipe, it would be to add a little more fat.  Maybe some ground bacon?

This recipe made enough meatloaf for four meals for the two of us.  I divided the leftovers and froze them in three packages. 

I think that when I thaw the leftover meatloaf, I’ll slice it and then cook the slices on a griddle so they develop a bit of a crust.  I’ll put the griddled slices into toasted buns—maybe molasses, wild rice, and cranberry brown bread—with some red cabbage coleslaw.  That’s something to look forward to!

Monday 23 May 2011


Some years ago, a neighbour of ours showed me how she used cooked barley to fill chard leaves, in much the same way cabbage rolls are made.  Until then, I really hadn’t thought much about this grain, other than as an addition to soup or as a component of beer.  I owe my neighbour thanks for showing me her recipe. It opened my mind to the use of barley as a whole grain component in our day-to-day meals.

You can find two kinds of barley in most grocery stores: Pot barley and pearl barley.  Pot barley is a whole grain.  Its inedible outer hull has been removed but its bran and germ remain intact.  Pearl barley is not a whole grain.  It has been steam processed to remove the bran.  Pot barley can take slightly longer to cook than pearl barley but, because it’s a whole grain, it’s better for you.  It’s the barley I choose to include in our meals.

Whole grain barley is a very good source of dietary fibre and of selenium.  It’s also a good source of manganese, copper, phosphorous, and B vitamins.  Including barley in your diet on a regular basis can help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, help prevent certain cancers, and help to boost your immune system.  That’s pretty powerful stuff for such a simple and inexpensive food.

I like to cook my barley like risotto.  I start by sautéing some onions in olive oil, just until they're translucent.  Then I add the barley and stir it in, so that the outer surface of each grain can absorb a little bit of oil.  This prevents the grains from clumping together as the barley is cooked. 

Once the barley has been sauteed, I add stock to the pot bit by bit, stirring until the liquid has been absorbed before adding more, until the barley has reached the texture I desire.  I like to cook barley so that the grains have softened but still have a little “tooth” to them.  Barley cooked this way can be served as a side dish, just as it is, or it can be used as a component in other dishes—like my neighbour’s chard rolls.

Barley contains 14 amino acids so, if you wish to use it as an ingredient in a vegetarian menu and to attain a “complete” protein, you’ll need to pair it with nuts, legumes or dairy products.  I’ve adapted my neighbour’s chard rolls to accommodate this requirement by adding a béchamel sauce (or sometimes a cheese sauce) to the dish.  Instead of making individual rolls, I layer the components in a casserole, alternating layers of chard and barley, starting and finishing with the chard.  I top the whole thing with a thick béchamel that is not unlike the topping you would find on moussaka.  It makes a tasty, nutritious, satisfying, and inexpensive main dish.

Unless you have it in your fridge already prepared, barley is not an option for cooks in a hurry.  Like all whole grains, it takes a while to absorb enough moisture to make it palatable.  Its nutritional benefits and hearty taste make it worth the effort though.

Next time you’re in the grocery store, visit the aisle where the dry soup ingredients are sold and pick up a bag of pot barley.  You’ll be surprised at how tasty this old-fashioned foodstuff can be.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Dining Local

We went to the local farmers’ market yesterday and it inspired me to make a meal in which each of the components included at least one local ingredient (grown or made within 100 miles of our home).  Followers of the 100 mile diet would likely not approve of my menu because it includes ingredients from outside our area but I’m not a purist.  I think it’s okay to include other fine ingredients as well. 

I served a tasting platter and then a dessert.  Our meal included:

  • Spinach salad made with spinach and kale flowers from Alderlea Farm, in Glenora.  The mushrooms were not grown here on the island but they are grown in BC, in the Fraser Valley.
  • Cucumber and golden tomatoes from Gamboa Greenhouses in Cobble Hill.
  • Devilled eggs made from Alderlea Farm organic eggs.  The mayo was made from them too and the green onions come from Alderlea Farm as well.
  • Highland beef sirloin from Birds Eye Cove Farm.
  • Cognac sausage from Ravenstone Farm in Qualicum Beach.
  • Sweet tomato and jalapeno pickle made from vegetables purchased at the farm market last summer.
  • Zucchini relish and green tomato relish also made from vegetables purchased at the farm market last summer.
  • Red Dawn cheese, flavoured with blackberries and port, made by Hilary’s Artisan Cheese in Cowichan Bay.
  • Foccaccia crisps (not pictured), that I baked myself using Sunset Bay honey from Nanaimo and dried oregano from Providence Farm here in Duncan.
  • Rhubarb and apple crisp, made with Sunset Bay honey and rhubarb from my brother’s garden.  The apples are not from the island but they are from BC.  They were grown in the Okanagan.

All in all, it was a mighty fine meal.  Kudos to our local farmers; I appreciate their hard work.

Tuesday 17 May 2011


I posted some egg photos yesterday, from the Magnum Photos website.  ( These extraordinary images have got me thinking about how commonplace eggs are in our day-to-day life and how much we depend upon them.

There are, of course, many different kinds of eggs—chicken, duck, quail, caviar, roe and even ostrich, to name but a few—but I think that when most of us say “egg” we think of chicken eggs and we see in our mind’s eye the many shelves of them on display in our grocery store’s dairy section.

Eggs are nutritional power houses.  They are one of the few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D, they are a source of Vitamin A, B vitamins, and Vitamin E.  They are a rich source of iron, a source of calcium, and they contain all the essential amino acids.  Better still, they provide all of this nutrition in a package that is low in calories; only 75 calories in a single, large egg.

Many of the eggs we see in our grocery stores are battery eggs.  This is not some obscure reference to electrical charges but is, rather, a description of how the chickens that produce the eggs are raised. 

Battery farming, or factory farming, is the process of raising chickens in small cages, inside large buildings.  The cages do not touch the ground and hens raised in these cages are unable to engage in natural behaviours such as wing-flapping, dust-bathing, scratching, pecking, perching and nest-building.  They are often debeaked in order to prevent them from harming each other or engaging in cannibalism.  Several studies have indicated that a combination of high calcium demand for egg production and a lack of exercise lead to a painful condition known as cage layer osteoporosis, which increases the chances that hens in battery cages will break their bones.[i]

Free range chickens are given access to the outdoors.  While there is no specific standard for eggs labeled as “free range,” some eggs are “certified humane” or “certified organic.” Eggs labeled as “certified humane” are raised on farms with specific requirements for stocking density and cage-free keeping.  Eggs labeled “certified organic” are raised on farms where the hens must have outdoor access and are fed only organic, vegetarian feed.

Interestingly, the quality of life of the hen that produces the eggs greatly affects the nutritional value of the eggs themselves.  Eggs laid by free-range chickens that are allowed to forage for their own food have been found to be lower in cholesterol and fats while being several times higher in vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids than standard factory eggs.[ii]

As you can imagine, cooking as much as I do every day, I use a lot of eggs in the course of a week.  I use them in much of my baking and in many of my other recipes.  I also keep them on hand as a convenient and inexpensive main dish on days when I am particularly busy or rushed.  They form the centerpiece of many of our meals on meat free days.

I get most of my eggs from a local farmer, who raises a small number of hens in a coop where they have ready access to the outdoors.  When I need to supplement this supply, I purchase certified organic eggs from a local grocer. 

If you are fortunate enough to be able to buy your eggs from a local farmer, I encourage you to do so.  If not, please give consideration to how the hens who produce the eggs you eat are raised.  In the long run humane farming practices benefit us all, both in the quality of our environment and in the nutrition we receive.

Sunday 15 May 2011

On My Mind

The day snuck by me today without me writing a blog.  Although I spent much of my day preparing food, oddly it wasn’t much on my mind.  Guess we all have days like that.

What was on my mind?  Well, let’s see: 

The crummy weather was on my mind.  It was raining so hard that I actually got a chance to disprove the saying “lovely weather for ducks.”  I went to Quamichan Lake and saw nary a duck.  They were all hiding somewhere in the reeds or on the shore, sheltered from the worst of the downpour.  I did see some seagulls though, and a very wet woodpecker.

Spring was on my mind, especially spring flowers.  I worried some about how much the rain was beating up the rhododendrons in our garden, and how it had stripped the last blooms off the magnolia down the street.  I went to a garden center this afternoon and looked at pots and herbs for my balcony.  I was grateful that even though it is wet the weather is quite mild now.

Laundry was on my mind.  It seems to get away from me sometimes.  There are so many other things to do with my day.  Today, though, I washed the whole lot, folded it, and put most of it away.  (Some went into the ironing basket where it will sit ignored until I actually need it.)

Money was on my mind.  I sorted through a pile of receipts, did some filing, and some bookkeeping.  It’s my least favourite chore, but oh so necessary.

Friends were on my mind.  My friend Anna stopped by to visit.  I planned to phone several people but never got around to it.  Guess I’ll try again tomorrow.  I’m glad they understand that I’m just disorganized, not taking them for granted.

Family was on my mind.  I spent some time today being grateful for mine, both those who live nearby and those who do not.  They’ve been there for me both in happy times and sad.  I’m fortunate to have them.

While I was thinking about all this, my hands were busy, going through the steps of cooking almost automatically.  Despite my lack of attention, the veggies I brought home from the market got washed and stowed away, the bread rose perfectly, and the soup simmered along on the back of the stove. 

I find the process of cooking very calming.  Sometimes it calms me by keeping me totally engaged and sometimes it frees my mind to travel along other paths, as it did today.  Either way, I’m grateful to have the skills to do it, a kitchen that works for me, food enough to cook with, and friends and family to share my meals with.  I’m a lucky woman.

Saturday 14 May 2011


I saw my first asparagus sign of the season, on a local farm stand while I was out and about today.  It made me happy. 

Although in the middle of winter I do occasionally succumb to the siren call of imported out-of-season stuff, asparagus remains to me one of the few remaining truly seasonal treats.  If you have ever had asparagus that’s picked the very day you eat it, you’ll know that it bears no resemblance at all to that which has been shipped for thousands of miles before seeing your grocer’s shelves.

I love to roast asparagus.  I buy slender stalks that are no thicker than my baby finger.  I toss them in olive oil, season them with salt and pepper, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake them at a fairly high heat until the tips are crispy and caramelized and the stocks are fork tender.  Heaven!  I am happy eating them right off the baking sheet; making asparagus my entire meal.  I fear, though, that if I’m going to roast asparagus in my new place I’ll have to first disable the smoke detectors!

Other ways I’ve cooked asparagus:  baked in tarts and quiches, steamed, stir fried, grilled, pureed, and in soups. 

Ways I’ll never cook asparagus:  pickled.  I seriously do not understand how anyone could want to take that perfect, delicate taste of spring and ruin it with vinegar.  Each to their own, I guess.

I’m heading out toward Cowichan Bay to buy spot prawns tomorrow.  I think I’ll stop and buy some asparagus on the way home.  Sounds like the makings of a perfect meal.

Friday 13 May 2011

Where's the Beef?

Because food prices are rising and our income is not following suit, we made a decision some time ago that we would change our eating habits.  We now eat two to three vegetarian meals a week.  It helps to keep our budget in line.

My husband is a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and he complained mightily about the change at first.  In truth, I wasn’t such a big fan either.  It’s funny really, because back in my 20’s and even my early 30’s I was pretty much completely vegetarian.  My habits have changed since then but we’re both used to the new meal plan now, and actually find ourselves looking forward to some of the vegetarian meals that make a regular appearance on our dinner table.

Besides being more affordable, our vegetarian meals are a healthy lifestyle choice.  Eating a diet with less animal protein is believed to help reduce high blood pressure, high HDL cholesterol, high glucose levels, elevated triglycerides, and unhealthy waist circumference. In doing so, such a diet reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Vegetarian meals are also kinder to the earth. Animal protein takes much more energy (food) and space to produce than plant protein does.  In choosing vegetarian meals, we allow for production of a greater quantity of food, in less space, for less money.  These benefits are reflected in our food costs.
Many people argue that we are genetically and biologically disposed to eating large amounts of meat – the cavemen were meat-eaters as were the innovators of ancient China and the Renaissance. But today we are lucky enough to have life expectancies two to three times higher than in any one of those contexts.[i]  Our forebears ate a diet largely dictated by necessity.  We have a wider range of foods available to us and a better understanding of which of those foods are healthful.  We can make more informed choices.
It’s not likely that our household will become completely vegetarian.  We both like our steaks and roast chickens too much to give them up entirely, but an asparagus frittata with a salad on the side doesn’t go down badly either.


Thursday 12 May 2011

Spot Prawns

It’s spot prawn time and the folks in Cowichan Bay are celebrating the season with a festival on Sunday.  The area restaurants will be featuring spot prawn specials, and there will be cooking demonstrations at the pier, live music on three different stages, childrens’ activities and—of course—prawns for sale.  I’m not a fan of crowds so I likely won’t stay for the whole day, but I do plan to be there for the early bird prawn sale at Cowichan Bay Seafood.

Spot prawns are the largest of the seven commercial species of shrimp found in Canada’s west coast waters. They’re found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean from Unalaska Island, Alaska to San Diego, California, and in the northwestern Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Japan to the Korea Strait.  In British Columbia, 65% of prawns are harvested in the inside waters of Vancouver Island.[1]

The spot prawn’s body colour is usually reddish brown or orange with white horizontal bars on the carapace (shell) and distinctive white spots on the first and fifth abdominal segments. While large females can exceed 9 inches in total length, the restricted carapace (shell) size limit for harvest is 1 1/3 inch long.[2]

The Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program recognizes spot prawns as a sustainable seafood choice, caught in a way a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem.  Cooking with spot prawns not only adds great flavour to your menu and is beneficial to your health; it’s a wise environmental choice as well.

The spot prawn season is short—about 80 days long—so I plan to avail myself of this treat while I can.  The early bird price for prawns at the festival is $8.50/lb.  Later in the day when the prawn boats start selling from the pier, the price will be around $10 to $11/lb. Both prices are bargains when you consider that in Japan spot prawns can go for as much as $100/lb.

Known for their sweet flavour and firm texture, spot prawns have found a large market in Japan where they are recognized as a more flavourful and sustainable choice than farmed tiger prawns.  About 90% of BC’s annual spot prawn catch is exported to Japan.  The remaining 10% is purchased by the local market.

Spot prawn tails are often served as sushi.  Whole prawns can be sautéed or grilled, butterflied, skewered, baked, steamed, or boiled.  They cook in just a couple of minutes, making them a quick and flavourful choice for hurried cooks.  If you’re looking for recipes, a good starting point would be

I hope you’ll try these prawns while they are in season and I hope too that you’ll take a few minutes before your next shopping trip to research sustainable seafood choices.  As spot prawns demonstrate, sustainable can be enjoyable too.


Tuesday 10 May 2011

Glenora Farm

My step-mom has often told me that it’s a good day when you learn something new.  I think that’s a pretty good way to approach life and it’s led me to some interesting discoveries along the way.  Today I learned about the Glenora Farm community.

Glenora Farm is a biodynamic farm, producing organic produce here in the Cowichan Valley.  That in itself makes the farm noteworthy, but what separates it from other organic growers here is that the farm is also a vibrant community.  A member of the Camphill Association, the Glenora Farm community endeavours to provide a place where adults with developmental disabilities and their caregivers can relate to each other as companions, rather than as professionals and clients.  Developmental disabilities are treated not as illnesses, but as a part of the fabric of human experience, and are cared for in the context of a healthy home and community life.[1]

The farm is a busy place, and—perhaps more importantly—a happy one.  Community members actively farm 100 acres and operate various craft workshops that produce products for sale in their store and café.  Residents participate in music and drama programs and take part in sporting events within the greater Cowichan Valley community. 

The Glenora farm community is growing.  They’ve added new buildings and programs within the past few years and hope to continue to do so.  To a first time visitor, their enthusiasm and ambition are inspiring. 

If you would like to find out more about the Glenora Farm community, you can visit their website at or—better still—visit the farm itself.  They’d love to meet you.

[1] Source:

Monday 9 May 2011


When I was a kid, my mom welcomed the new growth of rhubarb each spring.  Orange juice was pretty expensive at that time of year and rhubarb, also rich in vitamin C, could be plucked for free from our garden.  Stewed rhubarb over corn bread was a common spring time breakfast at our house and her apple and rhubarb pie was something to talk about.  So good!

As an adult, I continue to eat stewed rhubarb and cornbread for breakfast each spring, and to try to replicate Mom’s pie recipe, but I’ve also expanded my repertoire to include rhubarb jelly (perfect and pale pink; lovely when stacked on the shelf and delicious to eat), rhubarb chutney, rhubarb and strawberry jam, rhubarb and sour cream pie, savoury rhubarb relish…The list is long and flavourful.

I have, for the past several years, lacked a vegetable garden.  Unable to grow my own rhubarb, I am always happy to greet its first appearance at the farm market.  It’s getting expensive though.  It seems that fewer growers are bringing it to market, at a time when demand is increasing.  That being the case, you can imagine how pleased I was to be offered an opportunity to harvest my own rhubarb from a nearby garden this week.  I happily carried it home and set to work preserving it.  Now I’ll enjoy it for months to come.

For those of you unfamiliar with rhubarb, it’s an herbaceous perennial plant that belongs to the genus Rheum in the family PolygonaceaeIt has large, somewhat triangular, heavily veined leaves supported on thick stalks.  Most popular rhubarb cultivars have red or pink stalks, but older varieties can be more green in colour.  The leaves are poisonous but the stalks are tasty and very nutritious, containing calcium, lutein, vitamin K, and antioxidants including vitamin C.  Rhubarb is a good source of dietary fibre.

Rhubarb tastes tart and somewhat astringent, which makes it an excellent savoury counterpoint to rich or fatty dishes.  It is more commonly mixed with fruit or cooked with added sugar though, and incorporated into baked goods or jams. 

I have yet to try a rhubarb dish I didn’t like.  I’m now looking with delight at the jars of jelly and chutney in my pantry and I’m grateful for the bags of rhubarb I’ve set aside in the freezer.  It’s like treasure in my kitchen. 

If you haven’t tried rhubarb or if you’ve forgotten about it over the years, take some home next time you’re at the market.  It’s a wonderful taste of spring time.

Sunday 8 May 2011

A Gift of Time

Every Mothers Day I think of my mom and my step-mom with gratitude and love.  I also think of the many other women in my life who have inspired me and given me the great gift of their friendship.  I am so lucky to have such wonderful women around me! 

Some of my wonderful friends invited me to brunch this morning, together with their children, moms, and grandmas.  It was a lovely morning, with good food and even better company.  I enjoyed it very much and was grateful to be included. 

On the way home I noticed how many restaurants were offering Mothers Day brunches.  Brunch seems to be the celebratory meal of choice for families honouring their moms.  I wonder why?

Is it because it is usually a more leisurely meal than our weekday rushes through the kitchen?  Is it because we associate brunch with company and with socializing?  Probably both of those things, and more than that too.

Sharing a leisurely meal in the middle of the day shows our companions that we value them enough to give them the gift of time.  With today’s busy schedules that’s a very important gift, indeed.

I’ll reciprocate that generous gift of time to my friends soon. I think next Mothers Day is too far away to wait for that opportunity.  We’ll make an occasion of our own.  Setting a table and serving a meal are such small gifts to give in return for their generous, welcoming hearts.

Thursday 5 May 2011

Local Heroes

If you are around downtown Duncan on a week day, you are likely to see someone ride by on a bicycle, towing a trailer full of recyclable materials.  The riders are the Cowichan Recyclists, who started collecting around town in 2007 from businesses, apartments, and strata title properties.  Their idea was to take recycling a step further by using pollution-free human power.  It’s caught on in a big way. 

I admire the Cowichan Recyclists tremendously for their good work within our community.  To me, they’re local heroes.  They’ve built a business that can function profitably while still honouring their ethics and, in doing so, they’re helping to make our town a better place to live.

Aaron Bichard, one of the owners of Cowichan Recyclists, recently took the time from his busy schedule to tip his hat (or should I say helmet?) to a long time local volunteer.    When one local hero takes time to point out the good works of another, I stop and listen.  I’d like you to hear about this person too.  Here’s his editorial from The Cowichan Valley Voice[1]:

Inspiration Among the Empty Tuna Cans

Taped to our fridge is a 10 dollar bill.  It’s an ordinary sample of Canadian currency serving as an extraordinary reminder.  It was given to us by the most self-less, community-minded volunteer we’ve ever met; a person who has given so much she need never give again.  Yet she gave it to us.  From her own pocket.

In 2007 when we started this recycling service, we approached the Cowichan Valley Basket Society and asked Betty Anne Devitt—the tireless volunteer who for more than two decades has been keeping the local hungry folks fed—if we could help out by taking away her recycling.  It was a tiny gesture meant to lighten a seemingly overwhelming load.

Betty Anne, who has given and given of herself since 1988 and not asked for a thing in return, was so thankful and supportive that she immediately said yes, and made it a habit of thanking us every Thursday for taking the material.  For more than three years we’ve hauled away hundreds of tuna tins, mayonnaise jars and hot chocolate canisters that Betty Anne and her team emptied serving two meals a day to hungry people.

And on that first Christmas, despite our great protestations, Betty Anne made us leave with a 10 dollar bill from her own pocket to show her gratitude.  It’s taped to our fridge—a constant reminder of the deep and pure goodness (nah, Greatness) that exists in people.

If we ever feel as though we have nothing left to give, we can always turn to the $10.00.  And for that inspiration, Betty Anne, we thank you.

Betty Anne retired on April 18.

Joseph Joe is one of the many Cowichan food bank users who will miss the dedication of longtime volunteer manager Betty Anne Devitt.

[1] Cowichan Valley Voice, Issue 30, May 2011


Wednesday 4 May 2011

The Recipe

Yesterday I wrote about the scone recipe Queen Elizabeth sent to the Eisenhowers.  Thanks to my cousin Lyne, I now have a copy of that recipe.  For those of you who might also be interested, here it is:

If you wish to make the queen's scones, I've typed the ingredients and instructions below.
  • 4 teacups flour
  • 4 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 2 teacups milk
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 teaspoons bi-carbonate soda
  • 3 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
Beat eggs, sugar and about half the milk together, add flour, and mix well together adding remainder of milk as required, also bi-carbonate and cream of tartar, fold in the melted butter.

Thanks for the detective work Lyne.  I really appreciate it.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Hem, Hem...

While the royal wedding was at the forefront of people’s minds, CNN did a story on a recipe that Queen Elizabeth sent to President Eisenhower. 

Apparently the Eisenhowers had had tea with the queen while in London, and she served them scones made from her own recipe.  Mamie liked the scones so much that she requested the recipe, which the queen duly mailed together with a hand written letter explaining how to amend the recipe with different quantities and ingredients. 

The CNN reporter expressed surprise that the queen would roll up her sleeves and get busy in the kitchen but, really, when you think about it, it makes sense that she would have some basic cooking skills.  You have but to look at her upbringing to know the reason.

Queen Elizabeth was a teenager during the Second World War.  Although it would have been much safer for the royal family to move to Balmoral for the duration of the hostilities, King George and Queen Mary chose to stay in London.  They did so to show solidarity with their subjects, who were enduring terrible hardships during the Blitz.

The royal family’s commitment to being “the people’s monarchs” extended into their private life as well.  King George and Queen Mary strove to provide their daughters what was by royal standards a fairly ordinary upbringing.  Thus it was that both Elizabeth and Margaret were introduced to the basic domestic sciences.  They learned to be good plain cooks and, apparently, Elizabeth enjoyed cooking well enough to continue doing so from time to time even after she became queen.

I would dearly love to see the recipe that Queen Elizabeth sent to the Eisenhowers—apparently it makes a good quantity of scones, asking for 4 teacupfuls of flour—but since I cannot, I’ll have to content myself with the recipes I have on hand.  I think cream scones with cranberries and orange zest will be wonderful for breakfast tomorrow.

Monday 2 May 2011

Mmmm, Chocolate!

What’s better than whipped cream on your birthday cake?  Chocolate whipped cream!  I love this stuff.  It’s oh-so-decadent but not sickly sweet.  You can pipe it, ice a cake with it, fill cream puffs with it, top a pie with it, or even dress your favourite coffee with it.  It’s simple to make too.

To make enough chocolate whipped cream to fill and ice a two-layer eight inch round cake (with some left over for good measure), you’ll need:

3 c. heavy cream (33% milk fat)
1-1/2 c. sifted icing sugar
3/4 cup sifted cocoa (buy Dutch process, the best you can afford)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour.  Just before service, whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks.  The icing sugar helps make this mixture more stable than regular whipped cream but it’s best to serve it as soon as possible.  If you know you’re going to wait a while before serving the whipped cream, you may want to consider adding a stabilizer.  Oetiker makes a very good one that is readily found in most grocery stores.