Wednesday 31 August 2011


Once a month, we go out for dinner.  We rarely go to white tablecloth places; our budget doesn’t accommodate that.  Instead, we enjoy family restaurants in and around our town.  Despite the humble destinations, these dinners are a fairly big deal for us:  We save up in order to afford them.  They are a special occasion and much care goes into deciding where we’ll have our monthly treat.

When we bought our place last year, we were delighted to discover a fish and chip restaurant just a couple of blocks away from us.  It was small and dowdy, with friendly, middle aged waitresses who called their customers “dear,” and it served not only very good fish and chips but also an excellent sticky toffee pudding.  I’m really fussy about my fish and chips so having this restaurant only five minutes walk from my front door has been a boon to me.  It’s been a favourite choice when deciding upon a destination for our dinners out.  Thus it was that we made our way there this evening.

Our first clue that something was amiss in our neighbourhood café was a change in décor.  We walked in the door to find the walls painted bright white.  The old souvenirs and hand-written signs were gone, replaced with trendy, expensively framed, black and white photos of London.  The tables and chairs had been replaced too and the windows—once covered with reflective film—replaced with new, untinted glass. 

Gone were our familiar waitresses, replaced by pert young things in short black skirts.  Our new (polite and efficient) waitress presented us with a new (shiny, laminated, graphically pleasing, emblazoned with Union Jacks) menu. 

We ordered cod and chips, just as we would have from the old menu.

Our meal arrived quickly, presented prettily on new, square, white plates…and sitting in a pool of grease.  The fish was Atlantic cod and the chips were pre-cut.  From the texture of the finished product, I surmised that both had been cooked from frozen, in oil that was not hot enough to crisp them properly.  Even the coleslaw appeared to have come out of a bag, and the tartar sauce was cloyingly sweet.

Some of you will have read my previous blog about fish and chips so you’ll know how I reacted to this meal.  We live on Vancouver Island for Pete’s sake!  There’s ocean all around us, and Pacific cod is available at every fishing dock and fish market! 

Good fish and chips require fresh local fish, hand cut potatoes, the right cooking fat, and the correct cooking temperature.  When all of those things are just right, you get a marvelous meal.  When even one of those things is wrong, your meal can be very bad indeed.  When—as with tonight’s meal—all of those things are wrong, the result is nigh on inedible. 

Because we had ordered it and would be obliged to pay for it, we ate what we could of our meal.  I commented on the poor quality while paying our bill, and we made our way home to take an antacid. 

Five hours later that meal is still revisiting me and I find myself feeling that we were robbed.  The new management at the fish and chips shop stole not only the pleasure from our special evening out but also the happy knowledge that we had a neighbourhood place we so enjoyed.  I’m angry that our money was wasted on food of such poor quality.  I’m angrier still that the new owners should invest so much in appearance and so little in substance. 

I understand that every restaurant strives to make their place both comfortable and attractive in the hope of drawing new customers in the door, but if you serve bad food it doesn’t matter how appealing your dining room is or how pretty your waitresses are.  People won’t come back.

Lesson learned.  We’ll be going somewhere else next month.


Monday 29 August 2011

Harvest Cake

I have a folder full of recipes written on scraps of paper, torn from magazines and newspapers, printed from emails my friends and family have sent me.  I keep promising myself that I’ll organize them into a book or onto a computer file but so far that goal has eluded me.  Yet I go back to many of these recipes again and again.  The paper gets more and more crumpled and spattered with cooking ingredients.  They have become old friends.

Harvest cake is one of those recipes.  My daughter Barbara made it for me during a long-ago visit at their house and I so liked it that I phoned her after we got home to request the recipe.  I’ve never re-written it from the original piece of paper on which I jotted it down all those years ago, but I’ve amended the ingredients to better suit my tastes.

I like recipes that use ingredients I keep in my pantry and I like them better still if they can be adapted to use up a bit of this or that.  Harvest cake suits my needs exactly:  I almost always have all of the ingredients on hand, and it affords me a means of using up the last bits of whatever seasonal fruit are residing in our fruit bowl.  I’ve made this cake with rhubarb, soft fruits, berries, pear, and apples.  I’ve even made it with sweet yellow tomatoes.  I’ve never had it turn out badly.
To make Harvest Cake, you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-1/2 cups finely diced fresh fruit (I used peaches this for the cake in the photos.)

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar.  Add the beaten egg and vanilla and mix until well combined.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and stir it in just until incorporated.  Follow with half the buttermilk. Continue to alternate the flour mixture and buttermilk, ending with the flour,  mixing after each addition.  It’s important not to over-mix the batter.  It should be slightly lumpy.

Once the batter has been mixed, gently fold in the fruit pieces until they are distributed throughout the batter.

Turn the cake batter into a buttered 9-inch-square pan and bake it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.  The original recipe called for a baking time of 30 minutes but I find it can take longer—up to an hour—depending upon how much moisture the fruit adds to the batter.

Harvest cake makes a wonderful dessert, served warm, with ice cream.  If you choose to let it cool, it can be topped with your favourite cream cheese icing.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Marché Saint Georges

I was in Vancouver for a family visit yesterday and my sister introduced me to Marché Saint Georges.  It’s charming.

The market is in a circa 1900 house, and is very simple in its furnishings and appointments.  The front door is painted with black board paint and lists the shop’s hours.  The walls are covered with a very old, and now faded, wallpaper that has been there for decades.  There is a tiny service kitchen, an espresso machine, a pastry case, a refrigerated display, some dry goods, and a display of locally woven linens.  Outside are organic fruits and vegetables, together with a few tables and chairs.  Café au lait is offered in bowls and if you choose to take tea it’s served to you in proper—if mismatched—china cups.  There is music playing.  It’s every North American’s romanticized vision of what a French neighbourhood shop should be.  I loved it.

Besides being beautiful and providing a place for neighbours to meet, Marché Saint Georges takes pains to offer good, locally produced foods.  They do their baking in-store.  The refrigerator contained locally made sausages, Fraser Valley milk, butter and yogurt, artisanal cheeses, organic eggs, and a colander of beautiful yellow and green string beans.

I appreciated the care taken in choosing the items offered for sale and in creating such a charming and welcoming atmosphere. 

Here are some photos from my visit.  You can find some more pictures, and information about the shop on their website at

Monday 22 August 2011

Feeding My Meatatarian

Once, when I returned from a couple of days out of town, my husband bragged to me that in the entire time I was absent he’d eaten nothing that was not brown.  His diet had consisted of bread, peanut butter, cornflakes, fried meat, wieners, and baked beans.  Immediately an old Wendy’s commercial popped into my mind:  The one where the guy justifies his choice of a double hamburger to his salad-eating date by saying “I’m a meatatarian.”

It’s not that my guy refuses to eat fruit and vegetables exactly, more that he refuses to prepare them and is apt to complain if I feed him too many of them in their unadulterated state.  Since I am concerned for his health and my own, it means that meal preparation at our house has, for 30 years, been a game of hide-the-healthy-stuff.

Here are some of the tricks I’ve learned over the years:

Oatmeal is a vehicle for fruit.  I always add raisins to oatmeal.  They’re a very good source of iron.  I also add diced, in-season fresh fruit at the beginning of the cooking time.  This week it was peaches.  In the winter it’s most often diced apple.  I spice the finished dish with cinnamon and add some brown sugar and vanilla yogurt.  It eats like a treat but it’s good for you.

Soup is a good thing.  My fella never complains about vegetables in his soup, and soup affords me the opportunity to add them twice:  First they give their flavours and nutrients to my stock and then, once the stock has been strained, I add more to the finished dish.  I also add legumes in the form of reconstituted dried beans, lentils, or peas.  I add whole grains in the form of barley, brown rice, or whole wheat pasta.

My husband is a huge ramen fan.  Me, not so much.  Those flavouring packages are composed of nothing but artificial flavours, salt and bad-for-you fats.  Over the years I’ve figured out how to make a ramen that is more acceptable to me.  I slice cabbage and onions very finely so that they’re about the same thickness as the ramen noodles.   I grate zucchini and carrots using the fine shred side of my box grater.   I discard the flavouring package from the ramen and cook the vegetables in home made stock.  My target proportion for the finished dish is equal parts vegetables and cooked noodles.  The noodles go in for the last three minutes of cooking, and then the stock is strained off.  I transfer the noodles to a large bowl and dress them with a little toasted sesame oil and some salt and pepper.  My meatatarian sees the carrots but doesn’t even realize the rest of the vegetables are there.   He thinks he’s getting a real treat when I put this on the table for lunch.

Any mom will tell you that you can hide a lot of veggies in spaghetti sauce.  I make my red sauce with tomatoes of course, and onion, garlic, celery, shredded carrot and zucchini, diced bell pepper, pitted and chopped olives.  At various times I’ve also included spinach, and artichoke.  Fortunately I don’t have to hide the vegetables in my red sauce.  After so many years, my guy thinks that all red sauce is made this way.  He does occasionally ask for ground beef in his sauce and, if I have some in the house, I’ll oblige him.  If not, I’ve discovered that I can coarsely grind chickpeas in my food processor and add them instead.  The texture of the chickpeas makes this substitution acceptable to my husband, and the added plant protein and fiber make me happy.

You can get a fussy eater to eat most everything if you wrap it in pastry or bread.  If’ I’m making pastry, I’ll splash out and make some baked pocket pies , but more often I’ll make something resembling a mini calzone.  I’ve made these with white bread, foccaccia, whole wheat bread, and multigrain bread.  My husband prefers the white or foccaccia  bread calzones and I’m willing to concede the point in order to get him to eat his veggies (but I do mix some Fiber Plus into the dough).  I roll the bread dough into thin rounds about 6 inches in diameter and then spoon in a filling.  I’ve used bocconcini and my red spaghetti sauce, cheddar sauce and broccoli (or other green vegetables),  mushrooms, carmelized onion and cream cheese or brie, and even a borscht-like filling made from shredded cabbage, beets and onion bound with sour cream,  tomato paste, and paprika.  I fold the bread dough over to make a half-moon shape , crimp the edges together, let the bread rise, brush it with a little olive oil, and then bake the calzoness off.  I serve them hot out of the oven but my fussy eater will happily consume the leftovers cold, direct from the fridge or reheat them in the microwave.

If he won’t eat it in its original form, my husband will often eat a vegetarian dish presented as a burger.  He’s no fan of black bean chili but if I make the chili into a burger patty by processing it to a coarse grind, adding brown rice and a bread crumb binder, then serve the patty on a burger bun with lettuce, tomato and lots of condiments, he’ll scarf it back.  I’ve made burgers from eggplant, from grilled portabello mushrooms, from falafel, and from lentils.  They’ve all been hits.

Other things that work for me?  Veggie laden pizza, baked eggs on butternut squash or on cooked spinach , fritattas topped with vegetables, scones or muffins with fruit baked right in, topped with more fruit and some yogurt…You get the idea. 

To be honest, the hide-the-good-stuff game is fun for me.  I love a challenge, don’t you?


This post is linked to the Gallery of Favorites hosted by The 21st Century Housewife and Premeditated Leftovers, to Kitchen Tips Tuesday by Good (cheap) Eats and Tammy's Recipes, to Guy Food Recipes hosted by Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, to Busy Mondays hosted by A Pinch of Joy and to Trim Down Thursdays hosted by Coping with Frugality and Eco Baby Mama Drama.

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Thursday 18 August 2011

Canning Day

I have a love/hate relationship with canning.  I love the scent of cooking fruit, I love sight of jewel coloured jars lined up in rows on my pantry shelves and I love the feeling of accomplishment I get when I’ve finished my work.  I love the sense of connection it gives me to my grandmothers, and to countless other women around the world who put food by for their families.  I don’t love the tedium and repetitiousness of canning prep, I don’t love standing in one place for hours and hours,  I don’t love how hot my kitchen gets, and I certainly don’t love cleaning up the mess.

This year, canning poses some special challenges and rewards for me.  An on-going health problem is causing my muscles to spasm.  It’s kind of like having a full body charley horse, all the time.  The looking-downward, hands-low-and-forward posture required for cooking is painful to me.  At the same time, I really do need to put food by this year.  My recent health problems have been a hard hit for us financially, and the fruit and vegetables I put by now will help us to make ends meet during the winter months.

Yesterday I bought forty pounds of beautiful Okanagan peaches.  They were things of beauty: carefully packed, unbruised, perfectly ripe, shaded from pale orange through blush red, and velvet in texture.  They smelled heavenly.  I made some into ice cream to enjoy today and set aside a few for a pie tomorrow.  The rest I preserved.

Canning was a long process.  It involved regular doses of pain killers, frequent breaks to go for walks, and lots of distraction.  I strung an extra long cable and moved the TV to a spot where I could see it while I was working.  My visual focus was mostly on the task at hand, but I listened to the TV as I worked and the distraction made the task less onerous.

I got it done.  I have to show for my efforts some jars of peach and red jalapeno jam, and many pints of peach pieces canned in simple syrup with a little lemon added.  The last of the jars are on the counter right now; the lids making reassuring pops as they cool and seal.  I’m happy with the results.

When I count my blessings this winter, I’ll be thrice grateful for these peaches:  First, that I had the means to buy them when they were in season, second that the nutrition they provide will help sustain us during the lean winter months, and third that I was physically able to do the work required to put them by. 

It’s funny how an illness or setback can make us stop and appreciate the little things.  I’m a fortunate woman.  Maybe I’ll can some cherries tomorrow.


Tuesday 16 August 2011

The Craving

Do you ever get a food craving that just sticks with you?  One you can't shake?

Usually I find that, if I ignore a craving, I’ll get distracted by something else and it will go away.  This week, though, I was craving an egg salad sandwich and the craving just wouldn’t leave me alone.  The longer I ignored it, the stronger the craving got.  It grew in particularity too, until I could literally taste the bread, the egg, the mayo, every time I thought about it.

This morning I decided to give in to my craving and to cater to all its particularity.   

First came the bread.  I baked some whole wheat loaves with molasses; dark, substantial, and ever-so-slightly sweet.   

Next I boiled the eggs.  Not just any eggs either; speckled, brown, free range eggs from a local farmer.  I put the boiled eggs in the fridge to chill.  

Then I made the mayo.  I used two more of my beautiful eggs, Keen’s mustard powder, sea salt, canola oil and—because I wanted the extra flavour—juice from my bread and butter pickles in place of regular vinegar.  I put the mayo in the fridge to chill too.

When the bread had cooled and the ingredients were all chilled, I set about making my sandwich. 

First I made the egg salad, with my boiled eggs, chopped green onions, celery, and mayo.  No fancy stuff...I was craving plain and simple. 

Then I toasted the bread.  I buttered it, spooned on a generous amount of egg salad, seasoned it with salt and pepper, topped the egg with lettuce, and put the lid on my sandwich.  It was a thing of beauty.

I set the table, and sat down to enjoy my treat.  It took five hours from start to finish to make that sandwich and it was worth every single minute.  Rarely has a sandwich tasted so good to me, and now that nagging craving is gone.  Sometimes the simple things really are the best.

Monday 15 August 2011

Blackberry Sour Cream Pie

Every year, with the first picking of blackberries, I make a blackberry sour cream pie.  It’s not the prettiest girl at the dance, but it tastes glorious.  We love it.  I make it but once a year and my husband anticipates it from the time he sees the early berries, still hard and green on the vine.

My blackberry sour cream pie is adapted from a traditional Mennonite recipe found in Edna Staebler’s book, Food That Really Schmecks.  Edna used raisins in her pie but I think the rich, caramel filling calls out for something tart; blackberries, rhubarb, or even tart apples make this a more appealing pie to me.

It’s a simple recipe, made from readily available ingredients.  To make it you will need:
  • Enough pastry to line a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. good vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. sea salt
  • 3 cups fresh blackberries (or other fruit) rinsed and drained

You will need to blind bake your crust before you add the filling.  Don’t pierce it with a fork before you do this; the filling will leak through the holes and make a soggy mess.  Instead, fit foil snugly into the formed pastry and then cover the foil with a layer of dried beans.  Bake the foil covered pie shell at 425 degrees for about 12 minutes. 

Once you have baked the crust and removed it from the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Remove the beans and the foil from inside the pie crust.  Save the beans.  You can’t use them in recipes but they’ll come in handy the next time you need to bake off an empty pie crust.

While the crust is cooling, make your filling:  Combine the sour cream, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt, whisking them together until they are well combined.

Put the drained blackberries in the pie crust, arranging them so they are evenly distributed, and then pour the sour cream mixture over the berries.  Place the pie on the middle rack in your oven and place a baking sheet under it to catch any drips.  Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until the custard has set.  This often takes an hour, sometimes even more. 

You’ll know the pie is done when you can insert a thin knife into the center and it comes out clean.  The pie will be quite puffy at this point and its center a little jiggly.  The filling will settle as the pie cools.

Chill the pie before serving it.  If you want to, you can top it with whipped cream but it’s not really necessary.  This pie is grand just as it is.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Berry Pickin'

I went blackberry picking for the first time this summer, yesterday evening with my friend Lennie.  We emerged victorious from our quest, with 2 quarts of blackberries, numerous scratches, mosquito bites and one wasp sting.  We felt like we’d tamed a lion. 

Despite the thorns, the bugs, and the other inconveniences, I pick blackberries every year, and I pick them daily for as long as they are available.  I’m grateful to have them.

In “Still Life With Woodpecker,” Tom Robbins describes a house in Washington State completely overgrown with blackberries.  The couple living in the house gain entry and exit by means of tunnels hacked through the vines.  He’s not exaggerating much.  Blackberries are like that.

Our mild, wet climate provides perfect growing conditions for blackberry brambles.  The vines can grow up to twenty feet in a single season and will set down new roots wherever they touch the ground.  Blackberry blossoms are a Mecca for bees and other pollinators andno matter how many enthusiastic humans pick the berries there are still enough for birds and animals to feed on.  Those birds and animals deposit the seeds elsewhere in the course of their travels.  As a result, blackberries can be found on virtually every patch of uncultivated ground here on the coast.

In years when I have been very poor, frozen blackberries have sometimes been the only fruit available to me in the winter months.  In years when I’ve had more food, I’ve still been grateful to have them.  Blackberry jelly, blackberry pancake syrup, apple blackberry pie, blackberry ice cream, blackberry vinegar, blackberry scones, and blackberry glazed meats are all welcome guests at my table.

Readily available, free food is almost always a good thing but, nutritionally speaking, few foods are better than blackberries.  They have a unique structure that actually contributes to their nutritional value — Each berry an "aggregate fruit" composed of many individual drupelets, each like a small berry with one seed, surrounding a firm core called the receptacle. These individual drupelets contribute extra skin, seeds and pectin with dietary fiber value to the nutritional content of blackberries, making them among the highest fiber content plants known.[1]

Blackberries contain a substantial amount of phenolic acids: antioxidants known as anti-carcinogenic agents. They are a source of vitamins C, E and K and of potassium and manganese.  Blackberries are also high in tannins and contain rich amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 fats (alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid). [2]

Worth a few scratches and bug bites I think!

I may need a bigger freezer…


Thursday 11 August 2011

A Pinch of Salt

Andrew Shepherd is a chef living here in the valley.  He’s cooked across Canada, throughout southern Australia, and had an award winning run at Sage Café in Fielding, New Zealand.  For the past few years, he’s been working with retail gourmet foods.

In January of last year, Andrew donned hip waders and ventured out into the tidal waters off Cherry Point to gather sea water in an array of 30 litre plastic jugs.  He boiled away the water in huge vats in his front yard, packaged the residual salt, and Vancouver Island Salt Company was born.

Locally produced, unrefined, artisanal salts like Andrew produces will always be more expensive than the rock salt you buy in a box at the grocery store.  I purchase them anyway. 

Unrefined sea salt (the kind of salt Vancouver Island Salt Company produces and markets) contains minerals and micro-nutrients absorbed from the sea water.  It is a source of magnesium and iodine.  Both contribute to the support of cardiovascular health, help maintain bone density, help regulate sugar metabolism, and help sustain reproductive health and strong immune systems. [1],[2]   (Iodine has been added to processed rock salt for more than 85 years as part of a program to help prevent iodine deficiency related illness.)

Unrefined sea salt has a stronger flavour than refined rock salt, so you need use less of it in your recipes.  With concerns about sodium consumption much in discussion these days, that’s something to consider when purchasing salt for home cooking.

VISC also sells salt that has been smoked with cherry, maple or alder wood.  These smoked salts are intended for finishing and have a distinctly smoky taste and aroma.  A little bit of this flavour goes a long way so these salts can be used sparingly, making them—pound for pound—a very good bargain.

Smoked salts are excellent for use with any white fish, roasted veggies, fresh greens with olive oil, chicken, and lean cuts of pork.  Andrew suggests making a dipping station for bread with a bowl of olive oil, a bowl of balsamic vinegar, and a bowl of smoked salt; very tasty and a lovely presentation when you have guests.[3]

Vancouver Island Salt Company is the first business of its kind in our area.  They sell their salts, both natural and smoked, to restaurants and retailers on Vancouver Island, the lower mainland, and even as far away as Ontario.  We’re lucky to have them.  This wonderful local sea salt adds great dimension to our locavore diet.

I admire the kind of vision it requires to look at something we see every day and take for granted and, instead, see something new there that we can use.  I admire the ambition and hard work it takes to bring that product to market.  I hope you’ll support this local endeavour.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Memories of Picnics Past

When I was a very small girl, our family picnicked with Grandma and Grandpa at least once a year, in Stanley Park.  We picnicked in the same spot every year, on the great, green expanse of lawn that sweeps down the hill to Lumberman’s Arch.  It was the perfect spot.  The saltwater swimming pool was in our line of vision, the petting farm and train to our left, the aquarium and zoo to our right. 

Grandma’s picnics were not like our own. Ours were quite casual: cold chicken and potato salad, and maybe some potato chips, along with a jug of Kool Aid. Hers were Edwardian in their scope and formality:  A red, yellow and green plaid wool blanket was spread on the ground and then Dad and Grandpa, laden like Sherpas, humped all of the picnic gear from the car to our chosen picnic spot.  There were chairs for the grown ups, a small table for cooking on, a Coleman stove, pots and pans, a tea pot, a large container of water and an enamel tub for washing dishes, dish soap, a dish cloth, some dish towels and linens, and—best of all—the picnic basket.

I was fascinated by Grandma’s picnic basket.  It had a cloth lining and places to hold real dishes, which were kept in place with leather straps, secured with little brass buckles.  There were compartments for cutlery and for individual glasses and the food itself was either packed in pudding basins covered with plates or wrapped in perfect, waxed paper packages, folded just so.  Nothing bad could ever come out of so perfect a basket.

My dad and Grandpa would wander off for a walk, sauntering about nearby and talking about man-stuff, while Grandma and Mom set about preparing lunch.  The stove would be lit, vegetables cooked, the dishes set out, and the men summoned back to eat.  My brother and I sat on the wool blanket, the grown ups in their chairs, and a proper Sunday dinner was consumed. 

Potato salad and cold chicken were often on offer, but so were boiled potatoes and carrots, warm roast beef, and soft, white dinner rolls with butter.  Our picnic dessert was always Mom’s pie; golden crusted and made from seasonal fruit.  It called to me siren-like while I worked my way through the mandatory serving of good-for-you vegetables. 

We ate like kings, and queens, and princess, and prince, feeling not a little sorry for those families around us who were making do with sandwiches.

After our meal my brother and I would fidget on the picnic blanket, waiting for the grown-ups to finish their tea.  Once it was done, Dad and Grandpa would take us to the zoo while Mom and Grandma did the dishes.  Then, dishes cleaned and order restored, everything would be returned to the car before the whole family set out to enjoy the golden afternoon, the park, and all it had to offer.

When I got a little older, we moved to the island.  My little sister was born here and Grandma and Grandpa moved here too, not long after her arrival.  Our picnic venue changed from a blanket on the grass in Stanley Park to a picnic table at Bright Angel Park.  Dad and Grandpa carried their Sherpa loads down the stairs and across the suspension bridge to the picnicking side of the river.  There were no petting farms, zoos, or aquariums; just long, sunny days, the river, a tribe of children, and a perfect rope swing.  The meals themselves remained much the same though, and my grandparents a constant, affectionate pillar in our lives.

They say you can’t go back and, physically speaking, that’s certainly true.  My grandpa died when I was seventeen.  My grandma survived him by more than twenty years—outliving my father—but now she is gone too.  I am the age my grandma was at the time of those first, long-ago trips to Stanley Park. 

My heart, though…My heart is a different matter.  I have but to close my eyes to feel the scratch of wool on the back of my knees, and the weight of my grandfather’s hand, gentle and comforting, resting upon my shoulder.  I can see my grandma, always in a dress, preparing our Sunday meal on the Coleman stove.

These memories are part of me in the deepest sense.  They have helped to make me who I am and to shape how I see the world.  They’ve helped me to know what it is to love and to be loved.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

This post is featured on Premeditated Leftovers Gallery of Favourites 1/6.  Find it at

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Monday 8 August 2011

Feta Tzatziki

A friend and I went to lunch at the bistro at Merridale Ciderworks the other day.  We saw feta tzatziki on the menu.  It sounded wonderful and, since neither of us wanted a big meal, that’s what we ordered.  Sadly, the actual dish was disappointing.  The tzatziki was runny and the feta—instead of being incorporated with the yogurt—floated in chunks in the watery dip. 

I usually enjoy the food at Merridale so I was surprised by the runny tzatziki.  It had all the right ingredients but they just weren’t put together in the right way.  I took the idea home with me and tinkered until I came up with something I liked better.  Here’s how I made it:

I peeled two cucumbers and seeded them.  I don’t care for long shreds of cucumber in my tzatziki so, instead of grating them, I cut the cucumbers into a very fine dice.  I put the finely diced cucumber in a sieve, salted it generously, and then tossed the cucumber with my fingers in order to distribute the salt throughout.  I set the sieve over a bowl and left the cucumber to drain for a couple of hours.

When the cucumber had drained, I got out my blender.  I put a cup of Greek yogurt in it together with a cup of crumbled feta cheese.  (I crumbled it myself from feta in brine.  Don’t buy the already crumbled pieces in a bag.  They’re too dry.)  The ingredients were too thick to puree readily so I added a couple of tablespoons of buttermilk and blended them smooth.  

I crumbled another cup of feta onto a dinner plate and added a teaspoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of olive oil.  I mashed this mixture with a fork until the feta was broken up into small crumbs. 

Next, I transferred the blended mixture and the mashed feta to a large bowl and added another cup of Greek yogurt.  I mixed these ingredients until they were well combined. I squeezed the cucumber with my hands to remove as much moisture as possible and stirred it in too.  I added a couple of teaspoons of finely chopped fresh dill and half a teaspoon of dried oregano.  I tasted the mixture and added a bit of salt. (Not much. Feta is quite salty on its own.)

I covered the bowl and put my tzatziki in the fridge for a couple of hours so the flavours could meld. 

The flatbreads and pitas in the grocery store didn’t look appetizing to me so I made some thin rounds of plain foccaccia bread myself.  Just before I served the tzatziki, I brushed my foccaccia rounds with olive oil and heated them on the grill.  They made a perfect accompaniment to the dip.

I’m pleased with the way this recipe turned out.  It’s slow to make but you’re not standing over it every minute, and the end result is worth the time invested.  I hope you enjoy it too.

Wednesday 3 August 2011


I have a friend who, as a result of an incurable illness, is on a social assistance disability allowance.  She gets about $625/month from the government and from this she pays $535 for rent on her tiny apartment, about $35 for electricity and another $30 for phone.  Not much left for food there.

My friend is allowed to earn up to $500 to supplement her income; more than that and she is disqualified from receiving her allowance.  When she is well enough to do so, she supplements her allowance through work but, even in months when she is well enough to earn the full amount, making ends meet is a struggle.  She walks everywhere because a bus pass is a luxury she can rarely afford.  Aside from underwear, she has not bought new clothing in years.   Her wardrobe comes from local thrift stores as do her dishes, linens, and furniture.

Despite that fact that her embattled immune system needs the nutrition, fresh vegetables are often out of reach for my friend, especially in the winter months.  Many is the month when need forces her to choose between subsisting on rice and oatmeal or visiting the food bank to ask for assistance.  Even so, when she does have enough to get by, she can be found sharing what she has with various homeless people in town–people she considers less fortunate than herself.  Her positive attitude and generous spirit are an inspiration to me.  At the same time, it angers me that such a good person has to struggle so, just to get by.

When I purchased our CSA share this year, with catering in mind, I bought the largest one available.  It was my intention to serve this beautiful, organic, locally grown produce to my customers.  Fate, in the form of illness, intervened and I have not been working at all so I find myself with a surplus of vegetables every week.  I’m grateful to have them and to be able to share them with my friend.  I phone her after I’ve picked up my basket each week, tell her what I have, and ask her what she can use.  Sometimes she takes a fair bit and sometimes, when she has money enough to buy her own fruit and vegetables, she takes none at all.  I then set aside what we can use, and the remainder goes to the food bank.

Many people who use the food bank are in circumstances similar to my friend’s.  Others are elderly or have children to feed.  For most of them, including enough fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet is an illusive goal.  Food banks do what they can through programs like BC Sharing (a cash donation program that allows them to purchase produce at wholesale prices) but, for the most needy among us, there is nearly always a nutritional deficit.

Because I wish to help address the nutritional challenges faced by many food bank clients, I purchase BC Sharing coupons regularly at the grocery store.  If I’m at a store that doesn’t participate in the program, I make a point of speaking with the manager and requesting that they do so.  I also shop with donations in mind.  I pick up fruit and vegetables that will keep relatively well—root vegetables, cabbage, citrus fruit and apples—and I try to deliver them to the food bank on the afternoon before they open their doors to clients.

Like all good ideas and many good intentions, this one comes with a caveat:  Refrigerated storage is limited or non-existent at many food banks.  Before purchasing or harvesting fruit and vegetables for donation, call the food bank in your area to ensure that they have the means to accept and distribute them.  If they don’t, look for other ways to get fresh food to those in need.  Community kitchens, seniors’ drop-ins, day cares for children from low income families are but a few options.  If you contact your MLA’s office and explain your intentions, they’ll be happy to connect you with organizations who can put your donation to good use. 

So…If you’re gardening, plant an extra row.  If you’re shopping, buy some extra fresh fruits and vegetables.  Make sure your donation reaches people in need.  It’s like tossing a pebble into a pond:  The effects of your kindness will ripple outward, touching your entire community.


Tuesday 2 August 2011


I’ve cooked with all of the kids in my life.  Kitchen time is time to learn about each other, to develop important skills—counting, measuring, patience—and to enjoy a sense of adventure.  Curiosity is a strong component of childhood learning, as is pride in work well done.  Children will try almost any food that they’ve helped to prepare, even when it includes ingredients with which they are not familiar.

This same principle applies to gardening.  Children who help to plant and tend a garden are more likely to eat the produce that comes out of it.

There’s a children’s song by Tom Chapin called The Ultimate Lunchroom.  In the lunchroom, the school lunches are nutritious and given to all students for free.  The students grow the food themselves in a garden and compost their leftovers to help feed the garden again.  The process is so cool that they also do it at home.  A dream?  Perhaps, but the community garden at Alexander Elementary School is helping to bring that dream a step closer to reality.

The Alexander Community Garden was designed through a process of consultation with the school and the community, and through discussions at Cowichan Green Community events.  Once decided upon, the design was given form by volunteers from Cowichan Green Community, Ceres Edible Landscaping, and the Rotary club.

Work began on the garden in March, 2011.  It was built on gravel fill so the first step to building the garden was building the soil itself.  The gardens were sheet mulched using cardboard, newspaper, compost, and alfalfa and then inoculated with effective microorganisms.   This effective permaculture technique yielded the live soil necessary to sustain the herbs, fruit trees and shrubs that were subsequently planted.  Rotary club volunteers built some raised vegetable gardens and a pergola, and Warm Land Waterworks directed the installation of an elaborate micro-drip irrigation system.[1]

Right now the Alexander Community Garden doesn’t look like much:  It’s a collection of small plants on a plot surrounded by piles of gravel and bark mulch, but gardeners plan for the long haul.  The hard work done by volunteers this year has laid the foundation for what will grow in the garden in the years to come.  In a few short years, this unprepossessing space will be a little Eden, bearing cherries, apples, gooseberries, loquats, strawberries, blueberries, sunchokes, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries, grapes, Saskatoon berries and a wide variety of herbs.[2] 

Students will plant annual crops in the raised beds in the community garden, they’ll help to care for the permanent plantings, and—in the process of getting their hands dirty and learning about the cycle of planting, growing, and giving back to the soil—they’ll gain an understanding of and enthusiasm for eating the produce that they grow.  That’s the way to build healthy habits.  That’s the way to build hope for the future.

[1] Jason Greenwood for Cowichan Valley Voice, issue 33, August 2011
[2] Jason Greenwood for Cowichan Valley Voice, issue 33, August 2011