Thursday 30 June 2011

Tea Farm

Ever since I started preparing for last week’s tea, tea has been much on my mind.  I have more to say about it than can be reasonably contained in a single blog so I’ve decided to write a series on the subject.  Tonight I’m writing about Tea Farm, here in the valley.

Tea Farm is an eleven acre organic farm that grows a variety of tea-centric crops including lavender, hops, and calendula.  They blend their crops with fair trade and organic teas and offer their blends both in their own tea room and around Vancouver Island.

Although most tea is grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates, there are some hardier varieties.  In 2010, Tea Farm planted a trial crop of 200 plants of one of these varieties, to see if tea is a viable crop in this area.  The tea has made it through the winter and Tea Farm is now hopeful that they will be able to offer valley-grown tea within just a few years.

Margit Nellemann, one of Tea Farm’s owners says “We specialize in organic and fair-trade teas from around the world and we’ll continue to do that, honouring what people have been doing for centuries and what they do well,”[1] but it’s exciting to think that the valley could soon be home to the northernmost trading tea farm in the western hemisphere. 

I’m looking forward to Tea Farm’s first offering of their own tea crop.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy their teas at home and to visit their tea room, where I can also admire Margit’s pottery.  The rural setting is as calming and delightful as the teas themselves.


Tuesday 28 June 2011

Rice Is Nice

We were headed to Victoria for the day today and I wanted to pack some sort of lunch to take along with us.  Sandwiches didn’t appeal so I turned to an old standby:  brown rice patties and cheese.  If you’re looking for something different to pack for lunch at work, to add to a picnic basket, or to feed the kids at snack time, you might want to try these patties too.

My recipe for brown rice patties dates back to the 70’s.  Like many recipes from that era, it’s very conscientious about using healthy ingredients but not really concerned about added fat.  The patties are fried.  I’ve tried baking them but it just doesn’t give them the right texture.  I continue to make them anyway, choosing to fry them in canola or olive oil, and to make sure that both the skillet and the oil are hot when the patties are placed in the pan.  Doing so ensures that the patties form a crust while absorbing the least amount of oil.

Why do I continue to make these patties?  Well, they taste really good and, even with the oil, they’re good for me. 

Brown rice is a whole grain, rich in fiber.  Fiber keeps our colon happy and helps to lower cholesterol.  Research has also shown that women who eat a diet rich in whole grains are less likely to gain weight because the fiber in whole grains helps them feel full.

Brown rice is a good source of manganese, selenium and magnesium.  Manganese helps us to synthesize fatty acids, important to maintaining a healthy nervous system.  Selenium is an essential component of several major metabolic pathways, including thyroid hormone metabolism, antioxidant defense systems, and immune function.[1]  Magnesium aids in the body’s absorption of calcium, helps our hearts maintain a steady rhythm, and helps maintain proper muscle function.[2]

Sesame seeds are a source of copper, manganese, tryptophan, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, zinc, vitamin B1 and fiber.  They contain two unique substances: sesamin and sesamolin. Both of these substances belong to a group of special beneficial fibers called lignans, and have been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans, and to prevent high blood pressure and increase vitamin E supplies in animals.[3]

I eat my brown rice patties with cheese.  The proteins in the patties and the proteins in the cheese combined form a “complete” protein, providing all twenty-two standard amino acids.  All in all, that’s some pretty powerful nutrition packed into one tasty treat.

To make brown rice patties, combine 1-1/2 cups cold, cooked brown rice, 3 Tbsp. sesame seeds, 2 Tbsp. whole wheat flour and 1/2 tsp. each of salt and tamari sauce.  Work the mixture gently with your hands until it binds together and then form it into six 2-1/2 inch patties.  Fry them until they’re crisp and golden on both sides, then transfer them to paper towel and let them cool.  They’re best served at room temperature.



Sunday 26 June 2011

Artisanal Cheese

There was a time when all cheese was artisanal cheese.  Every village or farm that had access to cattle, sheep, goats, yaks, buffalo or other milk bearing creatures had a cheese maker.  Every farm wife knew how to make fresh cheese.  Cheese was a local product, made from local ingredients, by local people.  Then, somewhere along the way, cheese making was industrialized.  It became increasingly the province of huge companies like Kraft, made in vast stainless steel vats, and with the rise of the supermarket became the only cheese many North Americans have known.  Thankfully, that’s changing.

Since the rise of the back to the earth movement of the 70’s, artisanal cheeses have been making a recovery.  Now, many communities are fortunate enough to have access to one or more regional cheeses.  This is how it should be.

Here in the Cowichan Valley, artisanal cheese is made by Hilary and Patty Abbott, owners of Hilary’s Cheese.  Since 2001, they have been making cows’ and goats’ milk cheese and selling it in their deli in Cowichan Bay.  They also sell their cheeses at the local farm market, their new store in Victoria, and in shops and restaurants on the rest of Vancouver Island, in the lower mainland, and Whistler.

Cowichan Valley’s climate is mild, with ample rain, a combination that provides plenty of high quality forage for goats and cattle.  Our local milks are of very good quality and Hilary’s Cheese uses these milks to make small batches of cheese each week.  They offer twelve different cheeses, which fall into four basic groups:  fresh cheeses, cheeses whose rinds are washed in Cherry Point Solera (blackberry dessert wine), blue cheeses, and white bloom cheeses that are similar to brie or camembert.  I’ve tried them all.

I still buy supermarket cheeses but our local cheeses are increasingly finding pride of place in my refrigerator.  Right now, my fridge contains some Hilary’s chevre, some Red Dawn (one of their washed rind cheeses), and a small piece of You Boo Blue (humourously named for Youbou, a local community on Cowichan Lake). 

My cousin Lyne inspired me to use Hillary’s chevre on a goat cheese and garlic scape pizza. It was so good I plan to make another.  

We often end our meals with a fruit and cheese plate that includes Red Dawn cheese. 

The piece of You Boo Blue was much larger when I bought it but a good portion of it went into a heavenly risotto this week.

I’m very grateful to have access to such wonderful locally made cheese and I encourage you to check out cheese makers in your community.  They can introduce you to wonderful flavours that are truly a taste of home.


Friday 24 June 2011


Summer slept through her alarm clock this year and awoke late.  She threw all of her flowery garments around her and ran out the door, in amazingly lush and beautiful deshabille.  Roses are blooming everywhere.  Wild honeysuckle climbs through the trees, and it’s strawberry time here in the valley.

Local strawberry growers are experiencing a bumper crop.  I’m so glad!  Field ripened strawberries are quite unlike the imported ones we see earlier in the year.  Little can improve upon the taste of a perfectly ripe, red strawberry, freshly picked and still a bit warm from the sun.

How do you like to prepare strawberries?  Shortcake is always good, and jam.  A smoothie never goes far astray.  Homemade strawberry ice cream is heavenly. 

However you prepare them, when eating strawberries you are doing something good for your body.  Strawberries are very rich in vitamin C.  A one cup serving will provide you 149% of your daily requirement.  They are also higher in fiber, folate and potassium than other fruits like bananas, apples and even oranges. 

A recent study by Dr. Gene Spiller, Nutrition and Health Research Center, has shown that eating one serving (about 8-10 strawberries) a day can significantly decrease blood pressure, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. They are also found to reduce risk of cancer, enhance memory function and combat rheumatoid arthritis.[1]  Good reasons to enjoy that bowl of strawberries and cream.

I avoid imported strawberries even though buying them extends the length of time they are available.  In order for them to survive the long journey to our grocer’s shelves, imported strawberries are picked when they are still white and unripe.  The natural sugars in berries are a product of photosynthesis so, although they continue to turn red after they are picked, berries that are picked unripe will never be as sweet as berries that have been allowed to ripen in the field.

We’ll be going to a U-Pick farm next week, baskets in hand.  I’m looking forward to jars of beautiful red jam and I’ll be putting some berries in the freezer too.  When we eat them next winter, those sweet strawberries will be a wonderful reminder of the colours and scents of summertime.

If you would like to read more about our local strawberry crop, there’s an article in today’s Cowichan Valley Citizen.  You can find it online at


Monday 20 June 2011

Tea Time

When my grandma was in her 90’s, she moved from her home into Cowichan Lodge.  She adjusted to the move very well and spent many happy years there.  Her only complaint about living at the lodge was that she couldn’t get a decent cup of tea.  Tea at the lodge was made in the kitchen and then delivered to the residents by trolley, in metal pots.  My grandma deplored the use of metal pots for making tea and disliked the lukewarm temperature the tea attained in the course of its journey to her room. 

It was my habit, if possible, to visit Grandma once each week.  When I went to see her, I took with me all the accoutrements of a proper tea:  tablecloth and napkins, china tea cups, a tea pot and tea cozy, good tea, cream and sugar, silver teaspoons, small sandwiches and some baked goods.  I would set up our tea in the sun room at the end of her wing. 

Grandma and I both came to look forward to our weekly tea ritual.  It gave us a pleasant setting for our visit and an opportunity to enjoy each others’ company.  Grandma’s been gone for some years now, but I still have fond memories of those afternoon teas.

This week, I’m catering a funeral tea.  Once again, I’m making small, crustless sandwiches and dainty baked goods; gathering together all the materials that make a good tea special.  As I work, I find myself remembering those visits to the lodge and thinking happy thoughts about my grandma.  It makes for pleasant work.

Since it has been some time since I last made tea sandwiches, I spent this afternoon revisiting a favourite cookbook of mine:  “The Afternoon Tea Book” by Michael Smith. This is not the Michael Smith we Canadians know from Food Network but is, rather, an English food historian.  He wrote for the New York Times, and for Homes and Gardens.  He also worked as a presenter on the BBC and served as a consultant on several well known TV series.  In “The Afternoon Tea Book” he provides not only recipes but also an illuminating look at both the history of tea and of the afternoon tea ritual as it came to be established in England. 

I had a lovely afternoon.  I enjoyed re-reading all those interesting historical notes and revisiting recipes as familiar to me as old friends.  More importantly though, I enjoyed some happy memories of time spent with a very special woman.  I’m blessed to have had her in my life.


Sunday 19 June 2011


Some years back, on vacation, I purchased a Mickey Mouse waffle iron.  We stopped in at my sister’s house on the way home and—excited to try out my new toy—I made waffles for breakfast.  My 3-year-old nephew ate four of them and then exclaimed “I really like awfuls!”

Last night I asked my husband what he’d like for Sunday breakfast and he replied “Awfuls!”  I was happy to oblige, especially since he’d given me enough lead time to prepare my favourite waffle batter.

My favourite waffle is yeast raised, adapted from a recipe in “The Breakfast Book” by Marion Cunningham. It’s simple to make but does require some advance planning.  It’s well worth the effort so, when I do take the time to make it, I double or triple the batch and then freeze the extra waffles.  The frozen waffles are easily reheated: Just place them directly on the racks of a preheated 350ºF oven for 5 minutes.

If you’d like to try these waffles yourself, here’s how:

Use a large mixing bowl.  The batter will double in volume as the yeast works. 

Heat 2-1/2 c. milk to lukewarm and add 1tsp. sugar.  Stir until the sugar dissolves and then sprinkle 1 package of dry yeast (2-1/4 tsp.) over the surface of the milk.  Let stand until the yeast dissolves.

Stir 1/2 c. canola oil, 2 c. flour, and 1 tsp. salt, and beat the batter until it's smooth and blended.  (It takes a fair bit of mixing so you may want to use a hand-held electric beater instead of mixing it by hand.)  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand overnight at room temperature.

Just before you cook the waffles, beat in 2 eggs and 1/4 tsp. baking soda until well mixed. 

The batter will be quite thin.  Pour about a half cup of batter onto your preheated waffle iron and bake the waffles until they’re golden and crisp.


Friday 17 June 2011

Don't Forget The Potatoes

Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food,
For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good.
But don’t forget the potatoes.
-John Tyler Petee

The first tiny nugget potatoes of the season have appeared in our grocery stores and farm market.  I’m happy about that.  They’re a seasonal treat that I look forward to every year.  Potatoes make frequent appearances on our table year-round but these tiny sweet early spuds hold a special place in my heart.  They are the very essence of potato-ness to me.

Nugget potatoes are so tasty that little needs to be done to prepare them.  A quick boil in their jackets, in some salted water is sufficient.  If you have a garden, you may want to pluck a sprig of mint or dill to toss in the water as the potatoes boil.  That’s all that’s needed to make a perfect dish.

Once potatoes grow past their nugget stage, they’re prepared in countless ways.  They’re so much a part of our diet that most of us rarely look to a cookbook for instruction.  We have learned from childhood how potatoes can be cooked. 

Just how did potatoes come to be such a staple?

Potatoes grow wild throughout the Americas, but most are found in South America.  There are over 5,000 varieties, 3,000 of which are found in the Andes alone, mainly in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Colombia.  

The Spanish brought potatoes from South America to Europe in the mid-16th century.  They had an empire across Europe and used potatoes to feed their armies.  Peasants along the way adopted the crop, which was less often pillaged by marauding armies than above-ground stores of grain.[i]    

By the 19th century the potato was the most important new food throughout Europe.  It had three major advantages over other foods for the consumer: its lower rate of spoilage, its bulk (which easily satisfied hunger), and its cheapness.  Potatoes yielded from two to four times more calories per acre than grain did, and eventually came to dominate the food supply. They comprised about 10% of the caloric intake of Europeans at that time.[ii]

When Europeans came to settle in North America, they brought the potato with them.  It was by that time part of almost every European cuisine, and soon became a staple of the new world diet as well.  So much so, in fact, that we now tend to take the potato for granted.

Thanks in part to low carb diets, many folks view spuds as junk food, a source of empty calories, but that’s incorrect.  A medium sized potato with its skin provides 45% of our daily requirement of vitamin C, 18% of our daily requirement of potassium, and 10% of our daily requirement of vitamin B6.  Potatoes also provide thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, and zinc. 

A medium potato contains about 26 grams of carbohydrate.  The predominant form of this carbohydrate is starch. A small but significant portion of this starch is resistant to digestion by enzymes in the stomach and small intestine, and so reaches the large intestine essentially intact. This resistant starch is considered to have similar physiological effects and health benefits as fiber: It provides bulk, offers protection against colon cancer, improves glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, lowers plasma cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, increases satiety, and possibly even reduces fat storage.[iii]

I have always enjoyed potatoes—they are comfort food to me—but I’ve viewed them as something of a guilty pleasure.  Now I understand that it’s not the potato that’s the culprit, it’s the stuff we add to it.  The 150 or so calories in a spud are nothing compared to what we get through the addition of butter, sour cream, and other fat-heavy ingredients when we prepare and serve it. 

I’m going to enjoy my nugget potatoes, boiled and without added butter, secure in the knowledge that doing so is not only good for my morale, but for my body too.


Tuesday 14 June 2011


A chronic, but not life-threatening, health problem has forced me to take some time off work lately.  It has not been a happy vacation sort of break. I’ve been really stressed about it.  Work is most often a happy place for me.  I love to cook.  It’s a creative outlet for me and I miss it when I can’t do it. 

Due to my health problems I’m also unable to pursue many of my leisure-time creative activities.  There is a distinct and often violent tremor in my hands that prevents me from doing any sort of artwork that requires fine attention to detail.  These activities are a calming process for me, and without them worries and stress are accumulating at a rapid rate.

All of this worry has me turning to comfort foods on a pretty regular basis.  Mashed potatoes are making frequent appearances on our dinner table and, unless I’ve eaten them all, the cookie jar is never empty.  These carbohydrate cravings got me wondering what it is that prompts us to seek out comfort foods when we’re stressed, and it turns out that the culprit may be cortisol.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the cortex of your adrenal gland.  It serves many functions in your body, including glucose metabolism, insulin release for blood sugar maintenance, and inflammatory response. Cortisol helps in responding to and coping with stress, trauma and environmental extremes. Normal levels of cortisol increase energy and metabolism and help regulate blood pressure. Cortisol also enhances the integrity of blood vessels and reduces allergic and inflammatory responses.[1] 

Cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone because, when your body experiences a fight or flight response, extra amounts of cortisol are produced.  The effects of these short-term cortisol boosts include a quick burst of energy, heightened memory function, a burst of increased immunity, and lower sensitivity to pain; all very important when you are experiencing great stress. 

Fight or flight reactions are usually followed by a relaxation response.  Once the perceived danger has passed, our bodies relax and our adrenal functions return to their normal levels.  Unfortunately, when we are experiencing long term stress a relaxation response does not occur, and the resulting continued high cortisol levels can be harmful.

The effects of chronic high levels of cortisol can include suppression of thyroid function, cognitive impairment, increased blood pressure, decreased bone density,  decreases in muscle tissue, and blood sugar imbalances. High levels of cortisol can also lower your immunity and inflammatory responses, as well as slow down wound healing.  Long-term high levels of cortisol contribute to the retention of abdominal fat, with associated high risks of heart disease and stroke. A chronic high concentration of cortisol is toxic to brain cells and can cause short-term memory loss. A lifetime of high cortisol levels may be a primary contributor to Alzheimer's disease and senile dementia. It is also a primary cause of osteoporosis.[2] 

Wow!  That’s pretty scary!

Specific to my question about comfort food, though, is the fact that in a fight or flight response our body uses cortisol to increase the flow of glucose from your tissues and into our bloodstream. It does so in order to increase energy and physical readiness to handle the threat that evoked the reaction. We experience this as an increase in appetite and, because our body is responding in a manner that requires quick energy, we want carbohydrates. Thus, when we are feeling the stresses of the day, we go in search of cookies, or mashed potatoes, or mac and cheese or…whatever our particular comfort food craving happens to be.

Where is all this leading?  Well, to the possibility of a different response to my comfort food cravings.  Next time I want that cookie or that scoop of mashed potatoes, I’m going to try going for a walk, or having a bath, or listening to music; some activity that will relax me.  It’ll be interesting to see if my craving subsides.


Wednesday 8 June 2011

Cooking With Kids

Yesterday evening I baked shortbread with my friends Matt, who is 10 years old, and Brooke, who is 8.    I enjoy cooking with kids; it’s a journey of discovery.  They want to taste all the ingredients and they ask good questions about the process.  (I’ve learned a lot of cooking science over the years in the course of finding answers to their questions.)  Children who cook are almost always excited about the end product of their labour.

There is scarcely a child in my life with whom I haven’t cooked.  Over the years I’ve cooked with all my grandchildren, my nieces and nephew, the children I’ve provided daycare for, and my neighbour’s kids.  I’ve cooked in classrooms, I’ve cooked with brownies and cubs, I’ve cooked in other people’s homes and, of course, I’ve cooked in my own.  The kids and I have made a pretty diverse range of dishes too: everything from soups and salads to breads and cookies. 

What have I learned in the course of all this cooking?  Well, I’ve learned that children want to know the “whys” of cooking and the “wheres.”  They like to know where a dish originated and how it ended up in our Canadian kitchen.  Children want to taste everything that goes into a dish and, when cooking, will try ingredients that they would normally shy away from.  They will almost always eat a dish that they have helped to prepare.

I’ve used that last fact to my great advantage over the years.  Kids are fickle about what they like to eat.  They’ll love something one day and dislike it the next.  They also take umbrage to some foods just because they are unfamiliar with them.  If I’m caring for a child who is a picky eater, I make a point of taking them into the kitchen with me.  It helps them to develop a more adventurous attitude toward food.

The very best thing that has come from my time spent in the kitchen with children, though, is the communication that arises from the process of sharing an enjoyable task.  When we are cooking together barriers come down, trust is established, and friendship grows.  My life is much richer for those friendships and I am grateful that our time in the kitchen together has allowed them to flourish.

Monday 6 June 2011


I’m usually a pretty energetic person but lately  I find myself pretty tired by the end of the day.  Dinner prep, which is usually a joy for me, becomes a real chore when I’m already tuckered.  Simple, easy to prepare meals have suddenly become very important to me and eggs figure large in these simpler menus.

Here are some of my favourite ways to prepare eggs.

  • Soft boiled, with toast soldiers:  When I was little my Grandma used to make these for my breakfast; perfect soft boiled eggs in a heavy glass egg cup that had room in the bottom to tuck the other egg so it would keep warm.  The accompanying toast (always white) was cut into “soldiers.”  These thin strips of buttered toast were perfect for dunking in the soft egg yolks.  I’m long removed from Grandma’s kitchen but I love them still, even today.
  • Cold and hard boiled:  A cold, hard boiled egg that has been chopped or cut into quarters makes a perfect topping for a green salad.  Grated hard boiled egg served over asparagus makes a pretty and elegant dish.
  • Devilled:  Who doesn’t enjoy a devilled egg?  It seems that every family has its own special recipe for these treats, and they are all different, but I’ve never tasted one I didn’t like.
  • Egg salad:  There are few things better than a good egg salad sandwich.  I like mine on homemade olive bread but in a pinch any good bread will do.
  • French toast:  I prefer to make mine with breads other than baguette but other than that my basic method remains the same.  Great stuffed with a sweet or savoury cheese filling, or served for supper with savoury toppings, this dish becomes a whole new thing when crusted with crushed Cap’n Crunch and served for brunch.
  • Omelettes and frittatas:  These are my favourite go-to main dishes on a night when I’m extra tired.  They make excellent refrigerator Velcro because so many different leftovers work well as fillings.
  • Egg drop soup:  Ridiculously simple to make and sure to impress unexpected guests.  I almost always have the ingredients for this soup on hand.
  • Bacon and eggs spaghetti:  I frequently have bacon on hand but rarely pancetta, so I make carbonara with smoky bacon flavour.  It can be made very quickly and, when paired with a salad, it’s a very satisfying meal. 
  • Eggs Benedict:  This dish is a little more complicated to make but once you’ve mastered Hollandaise, you can whip it up in a very short time.  I like to play with ingredients while still paying homage to the original format.  Most recently, I made a benny with my cottage cheese dill bread, sliced thick and toasted, topped with arugula, lox, a poached egg, and Hollandaise sauce.  It was very rich but as a treat it was crazy good.
  • Butter crumbed eggs:  Again, this is more complicated to make than your basic scramble but worth the extra effort.  To make them, soft poach some eggs and chill them in cold water.  Dry them on paper towel.  Dip them in beaten egg to coat and then roll them in seasoned fresh bread crumbs.  Gently fry them in butter.  The results will surprise you.

I know there are many, many more ways to cook eggs; probably as many or more than there are people who cook them.  These days I’m very grateful for their versatility and convenience.  I’m always happy to learn a new egg recipe.

Friday 3 June 2011

Cottage Cheese and Dill Bread

Although I enjoy a good dill pickle, I am not fond of using fresh dill in my cooking.  It leaves a metallic aftertaste in my mouth and it causes me to burp.  You can imagine, then, that I was not thrilled to find dill in my basket from Alderlea Farm this week.  Fresh herbs are dear at this time of year though and I am too frugal to let them go to waste, so I set about finding something I could make that would allow me to actually enjoy the dill.

I decided to bake a cottage cheese and dill bread.  I’d seen a roll recipe in a Sunset book many years ago and took my inspiration from that.  It turned out to be a good idea.  The bread was very tasty, indeed.

I started by combining a cup of cottage cheese and an egg in my blender.  I pureed them until smooth and then left them while I put together the rest of the ingredients, thinking that the few minutes rest would help to take the chill off them.

Next, I combined 2 cups of high gluten white bread flour, 1-1/4 cups of rye flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. baking soda, and 1 tsp. salt.  I whisked them together until they were well combined. 

I thought this would be a good time to mix in the dill so I finely chopped about 2 Tbsp. of my fresh dill and then mixed it into the dry mixture with my fingers, ensuring that it was well dispersed and that each little piece of dill was lightly coated in flour.

Then I cut in 2 Tbsp. of cold butter.  I used my fingers to break the butter down into the flour mixture, pressing it into smallish, flat pieces, almost like flakes.

Although I’d already added leaveners in the form of baking powder and baking soda, I wanted that yeast bread flavour.  I dissolved 1 Tbsp. molasses in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water.  I sprinkled 2-1/4 tsp. yeast over the top of the liquid and waited until the yeast dissolved.

I added the yeast mixture and the cottage cheese mixture into the dry mixture, stirring first with a wooden spoon and then finishing by kneading the dough a few times in the bowl.  

I formed the dough into a loaf and put it in an oiled loaf pan.  I let the dough rise for 2 hours.  It didn’t rise as much as I thought it might but, then again, it did have rye flour in it.  Rye breads don’t rise as high as yeast breads do.

The bread baked at 375ºF for about 40 minutes.  It was very tender when I turned it out of the pan—in fact the top cracked under the weight of the loaf—but it sounded hollow when I tapped it on the bottom so I knew it was done.  I turned the loaf right-side-up and brushed the crust with clarified butter.

The bread smelled so good we didn't wait for it to cool.  We sliced into it about 5 minutes after I took it out of the oven.  Not a good idea; the slices crumbled when we picked them up.  Even though it apparently requires more restraint than I have to do so, please wait until your loaf cools before slicing it.

I think that next time I try this recipe I’ll make rolls and adjust the cooking time accordingly.  That way they can be served warm from the oven.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Good Information

Michelle Obama and the USDA launched a new nutrition icon, MyPlate, and a new nutrition website,, today.  Both the icon and the website are designed to demonstrate healthy portions and are part of a drive to address obesity, poor nutritional habits, and diseases resulting from these issues in the US.  The icon’s a great idea and the information offered on the website is very good indeed.

The announcement got me thinking about Canada’s Food Guide.  Next year the guide will be 70 years old and, while its contents and advice have changed over the years, it continues to be an excellent educational tool. 

Anyone who’s grown up in Canada is familiar with the Food Guide and its nutritional information.  The information in the guide is taught in public schools from kindergarten right through to high school food science and life skills programs. 

Sadly—perhaps because we do hear so much about it in school—many Canadians tend to view the information in the guide as old fashioned and no longer relevant to our day-to-day lives.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  The guide is built through a consultative process with health experts, consumers, literature reviews, food consumption surveys, consumer research, and commissioned scientific reviews.  It's regularly updated.  The result is current, relevant nutritional information, presented in an easy to understand format.

The first version of Canada’s food guide, titled “Canada’s Official Food Rules,” was published in 1942.  It arose from concerns about poor access to food, insufficient money for food, and malnutrition in some areas of the country, and also from the struggles faced by all Canadians as a result of war time rationing.  Its intent was to provide Canadians with the tools needed to achieve good nutrition in the face of the day’s challenges. 

In 1961, the name “Canada’s Food Guide” first appeared.  The new guide stressed its flexibility and wide-ranging application for healthy eating, recognizing that many different dietary patterns could satisfy nutrient needs.  This is the guide that I was taught in school.  It was presented in a format we still recognize today, with different food groups and a number of options listed for each group.

The 1977 Food Guide presented the food groups as four parts of a divided circle that foreshadowed the MyPlate icon.  The presentation has changed since then, but Canada's Food Guide continues to use a four-food-group format, with updated nutritional information.

I’m happy to see that Canada's food guide information remains so relevant.  The guide is a good tool, easily understood and possible to implement.  I’m glad, too, to know that the process of building these guidelines continues to be consultative.  Consultation ensures that our food guides will continue to grow and change as new nutritional science becomes available.   

Both MyPlate and Canada's Food Guide are worth visiting now, and revisiting in the future.  If you would like to find out more about Canada’s Food Guide, you can find it on the Heath Canada website at

Wednesday 1 June 2011

A Tale of Two Meals

I’ve been waiting for it to start feeling like summer might come.  We’ve had a cold spring, with disappointing weather, but the past few days have been warmer.  They’ve sparked some hope in me.  We might actually get some summertime yet.

Since the weather isn’t really co-operating with my seasonal yearnings I’m making summer in my mind, and nothing says summer to me quite like the smell of food cooking on a wood fire or a charcoal grill.  That smell and the flavour of the food itself evoke a thousand warm weather memories.  If I can’t have the temperatures, I can at least have the flavours.

Last night we had our first picnic of the season.  We packed up our little hibachi (which itself brings back memories of sun baked summer days back in the 70’s) and headed for Transfer Beach Park in Ladysmith.  We fired up our charcoal and cooked prawns on skewers.  We baked potatoes in the coals.  It was fabulous.

I marinated our prawns in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and oregano for just a few minutes before cooking them.  (I pre-mixed the marinade and packed it in a Ziploc bag, which I kept in the cooler with the prawns.  If I’d put them in the marinade before leaving home, the acid in the lemon juice would have cooked the prawns before I ever got them on the grill.)  I visited a friend’s garden on the way to the beach and snagged a few twigs of rosemary.  Stripped of their leaves, the twigs became the skewers for our prawns and lent them a wonderful flavour.  The smoke from the charcoal together with sweet prawns, the rosemary, and the flavours of the marinade resulted in something really amazing; the kind of dish that makes you close your eyes to better savour every bite.

We’d bought just over a pound of prawns and, even though they were very good, we ended up with some left over.  I packed them back into my cooler and brought them home, thinking I’d use them in some way for another meal.

Tonight I was looking for comfort food but was still in that summer meal frame of mind so I decided to make a macaroni salad.  I cooked and cooled some whole wheat macaroni, put it in a bowl and added the left over prawns, chopped celery, thinly sliced radishes, green onions, and fresh peas.  I could’ve gone with a vinaigrette to carry forward the Mediterranean seasonings I’d used when cooking the prawns, but that didn’t seem comfort-foody enough for me.  Instead, I made mayonnaise and—just as countless 50’s housewives had done back in the day—I folded it into the salad to bind the ingredients together.  It was crazy good.  Even my meat and potatoes guy didn’t complain about getting a plate full of cold pasta.  I’m so glad I made it.

Why remark on these two meals?  Well, they did help make summer in my mind.  I used some fabulous local ingredients to make them.  They illustrate how one protein can be used to make two completely different meals.  Most importantly, though, they both made me smile.  Food that good is worth celebrating.