Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 near and far

Dear Friends, 

I have thought of this post for a while now, seems thinking is the only bit of blogging I get to do these days because life is so hectic. It's been quite the year (I say this every year) but this time I can truly say it was great. I stuck to my 2010 resolution which was to step out of the box. I always play it safe when buying anything from shoes to jewelry, I prefer warmth and convenience and I like some pumped up fast paced exercise. This year, I ventured into yoga and wow! what benefits! I bought a few fashionable accessories for my wardrobe which usually means spending a bit more but you know what? I also started taking the bus to work (boy oh! boy is it cold out there!!) and for the amount of money I save on gas and parking, I think a few wardrobe additions are perfectly acceptable don't you? 

Stepping out of the box also means letting go of a few convictions. When you let go of ideals, you'd be amazed at how much more relaxed the household can be. This Christmas Eve we celebrated as a family and we all had a wonderful time. No one noticed the laundry baskets full of clothes upstairs and so what if there were a few Cheerios on the floor! Santa still came, left his presents under the tree, ate some of our homemade candy cane cookies and Rudolf had some organic-but-not-local baby carrots. 

That brings me to my real post intention: living local, the reality. What a challenge it is to live local, in winter, working full-time outside the house and feeding a family with 3 little boys. Realistically, the only "local" fruit available are apples or the few frozen berries I have in my freezer from this summer. The local vegetables at the grocery store include the few greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers along with onions and root vegetables. I suppose with some careful planning I could build every meal around these vegetables but to be honest, I'm not really a big fan of parsnips and rutabaga. I'm trying though, that's what counts right? :) I still buy seasonal produce even if it isn't local and I consider organically available vegetables ok in my shopping cart even if they are imported. I used to cringe at the thought of imported produce and I still consider the travel distance before buying but honestly, if my 4 year old requests sugar snap peas for his school lunches (and actually eats them), how can I say no? 

What's in store for 2011? I think I will try homemade root vegetable chips. I'm pretty sure the boys will love them and I can certainly find a good variety of local produce to make them. I will continue to find some creative recipes to feed my clan. I will master the homemade granola bar recipe. I will continue to spread the word about the importance of supporting local businesses. I will branch out my little lavender bath salts venture to include more local products and diversify the flowers by growing more in my garden. I will find some time to be creative and blog about my local gems. 

Best wishes to everyone in 2011 and bon app├ętit!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Shopping trip down memory lane

I had a little *wow* moment last night in the grocery store about a secondary benefit to reusable grocery bags. At the check out with my 7 year old ~ he's always eager to help out ~ he told the cashier that she could use this bright green mesh bag for the groceries. She told him it was a pretty cool looking bag and he said that it was a bag we got when we went apple picking in September. I was so surprised and thought it was really neat that he had a memory associated to this bag. But of course he would right? I mean it was given to him as part of the outing and he had such a great time. A plastic bag would have long been sent to the landfill by now, even if it had been reused a couple times. It really got me thinking about the true meaning of sustainability and value of reuse. It's not just about keeping things out of the landfill, it's about wanting and loving the things that you have.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Reality Check

It's been a while since my last post and there's a reason for that: being a mom of 3 boys and working full-time outside the house while still doing volunteer work and taking some time for myself to do crafts (or sleep?) make for some very busy days. The leisurely drives around the area to pick up some local produce are long gone and so are my hopes of getting to our local Farmer's Market on Thursday evenings. What does this mean for my local commitment? It means that I will have to rethink a few things. If I can only get to the Independent Grocer one week, what will the contents of my shopping cart look like? The trick is in the meal planning. Not only is it a huge time-saver and headache-avoider but planning meals for the week before grocery shopping will let me choose meals with a seasonal flavour which means greater chances to find "local" products on the shelves. 

On a side note, what is "local" anyway? Within walking/driving distance? Within the area code? The province? The next province over? Within Canada? This side of the Ocean? What about buying a Fair Trade item that supports some local movement somewhere? My answer: All of the above. Obviously if I have something growing in my garden, I will eat that first. If I need tomatoes and I have a choice between unspecified "Ontario" or "Manotic Suntech Greenhouse" tomatoes, I choose the closest ones. What about those products that don't grow here in our crazy-cold climate like citrus fruits? Well, a true local diet would go without but I prefer to have lemons, limes and those Yule-time favourite clementines in my diet. So here are my guidelines: choose Fair-trade and/or organic first, then consider distance: Florida? California? South Africa? What about South African Fair-traded oranges? would those make it into my basket over organic Florida oranges? Probably. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that every time we make a purchase, we vote with our dollars and we need to be aware of our individual impacts. We make a choice and we need to be comfortable with the choice we are making. Sometimes we might feel like we don't have a choice either because of price or availability but I say it all goes back to meal planning and knowing what's in season. Those root vegetables are much less exciting then those gorgeous pomegranates but if you focus on what is in season, your produce bill will be lower you will have room in your grocery budget to add a more expensive item as a special treat like a Fair-trade chocolate bar ... mmm...

Last weekend I went to Acorn Creek (www.acorncreek.com) since I hadn't been in a while. There were so many lovely preserves and plenty of dried corn on the cob (perfect for microwave popcorn) so I checked off a bunch of items from my Christmas shopping list.  I love giving "consumables" for Christmas. Our homes are full of "stuff" and giving "stuff" only adds to the already plenty "stuff" we have. What better idea than giving some exotic jam or marmalade that someone would not normally buy for themselves and at the same time support a local business? I think it's a treat and I hope my gift-receivers will think so too :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Meet the meat

A full month has gone by since I started back to work and I must admit, I do miss the luxury hopping in the car at any time of day to get those local groceries. It takes a lot of planning to make it to a weeknight Farmers' Market. October is in full swing and in a few weeks, those Farmers' Markets will close for the winter. 

Last Sunday was a very lovely Fall day and I asked the boys if they wanted to come with Mommy for a drive. They said yes, they were so excited. We got in the car and made our way to the Rock-N-Horse Farm (of course, I called in advance to make sure we could stop in). The boys wanted to know where we were going: Saunders Farm? The cottage? We get to Carleton Place and they think we're going to Walmart for toys. I must've told them 20 times that we were going to a farm to buy meat but that was just too real of an answer for them to believe. 

The scenery is gorgeous and the farm is lovely. The owners are so kind and so patient! My boys (especially the oldest) are very curious about everything. Where are your tractors? Your horses are your tractors? Where are all the people? Why do you have one cow? You have more cows? Why are the pigs eating potatoes? Why do you close the fence? Do the sheep go in the barn every night? Can I have a snack?

We got to visit the pigs, the chickens, the turkeys (which were going to slaughter the next day), the sheep and the horses. The boys were fixated on the tire-swing hanging from a giant tree. After an hour visit, tons of fresh air and a new appreciation for where our meat comes from, we left with a trunk full of pork. I was sure to stock up on bacon and the most amazing sausages (try Oktoberfest ~ truly yum!)


Visit http://www.rocknhorsefarm.ca/ for details about the farm.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

One leek-y lady!

I love leeks. I love potato leek soup, it's one of my favourites. I love how leeks remind me of the Netherlands and when I first saw them in the markets there I was surprised to see how long they were compared to the puny ones we seem to get in our grocery stores. I remember admiring how often they were picked up and put into grocery baskets. I'm still curious to know how exactly they prepare their leeks.

Last Sunday when I was strawberry picking with the boys, I saw a mountain of tall and plump leeks at the farm. Knowing that they freeze well and knowing that a bunch of 2 (maybe 3 if you're lucky) small leeks in the winter can go for upwards of $4 (not to mention they come from Mexico or further...) I thought to myself, hmmm... let's buy 10. So off I go with my 10 giant leeks, sand and dirt and all. Cleaning leeks is a pain. Cut off the tips, slice them in half, peel them back and scrub, scrub, scrub and scrub. 

I'm so tired this week that that bag of leeks could have stayed on my counter until the weekend. Lunches were made and I was about to go plop myself in front of the mind-numbing tv but I thought that those leeks just needed some attention. They took about 20 minutes to slice and clean, plus an extra 10 to chop them up and stuff them in freezer bags. 

It's madness, really, to think that I spent 30 precious weeknight minutes cleaning and chopping leeks for some creamy soup sometime in January. I suppose that in my quest to eat locally, it's a small time investment for big winter taste payoff. While it's true that I would probably walk past the imported leeks this winter, I would probably buy the yellow Ontario onions instead. Mmm... French Onion soup...      

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Two week whirlwind!

Back to the work routine now for the past two weeks and I can honestly say, I am exhausted. I actually passed out on the couch after dinner tonight because my legs were throbbing from running around all day and standing in the kitchen getting food ready for the week. I felt like my grandpa dozing off like that!

Today I took the boys strawberry picking. In September you might ask? Well yes! They are in season and pick your own is so fun! While everyone was out picking apples ~ cause that's what we do in September, right? ~ we were alone in the field and had our pick of the finest and reddest and warmest berries. My oldest asked me why we were going to freeze these berries for the winter because the grocery store has berries year-round, so I explained about how they have to come from Mexico or even further because nothing grows under the snow. I explained that they're picked when they're not quite ready and they get on a plane and then on a truck and then to the store where they sit cause we don't buy them, we'll have some in the freezer ;)

These past two weeks have been a time crunch challenge. Up at 5, out the door by 6:30. Full day at the office, full day at home, in bed early and up again the next day. September is such a busy month and there's always some kind of party on the weekends, like a birthday or a wedding, but it's also such a fantastic month for harvest. At the farm today I thought to myself how lucky I would be if I actually loved beets because there was an entire shelf of reds and oranges and yellows and purples. I did manage to bring home a small bushel of leeks though - also for the freezer - cause this year I am learning all about kitchen shortcuts and freezer meals. I've managed to make it to the Farmer's Market once and the Farm three times in addition to my regular grocery store run. The boys think it's cool that we can get our produce from somewhere other than the grocery store and I think so too ;)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Apple Overload!

On Saturday, the boys and I went apple picking. It was the birthday party activity for one of my best friends' daughter's 5th birthday. There were about 24 kids and almost as many parents. Hubby had to stay behind and do some techy work at the birthday party house but I figured that with all the kids there, my kids would just hang with the others and I could chat with the other parents... but alas... no. The older two took off as soon as they got their baskets, the youngest - Flip - decided to walk away from the party. Finally, with much coaxing (I gave him an apple) he sat down while I filled his basket. Basket was full in 10 minutes flat. Son #2 - Mac - came to join us with an empty basket, he needed mommy's help to pick the apples off the tree. Basket full: 5 minutes. Son #1 - JJ - had a full basket too and after 20 minutes, we were ready to go. But... the apple picking "activity" was for an hour so we had 40 minutes to fill. The other kids were all playing together and the parents were all hanging out, while I was chasing after Flip. Don't get me wrong, running around after my kids is fun, but what you should know is that my Flip is almost 2 and is the size of a 3 1/2 year old. He's heavy to carry and I often have to carry him but too much carrying and out goes my back for 3 days. But I digress... 

We left the orchard with two huge bags full of apples, more then we could count (or at least more then Mac could count). There are enough apples in my kitchen to make a freezer full of crisps and pies and crumble and ... so I posted on Twitter that I needed some apple recipe ideas and sure enough I got a response. Check out this link for apple butter: http://eclecticrecipes.com/crockpot-apple-butter/ Can you believe it? Apple butter in the crockpot! Here's the catch: I have never made a preserve. Last year I had every intention to make strawberry jam but chickened out at the last minute and bought the freezer jam pectin. It was still yummy but just not the same. So we arranged a #cancan Tweet-up at my place where my friend and I would get a canning tutorial in exchange for some apple butter. This morning I learned to sterilize my jars, how to fill them and submerge them in the pot of boiling water. I would never have attempted this on my own for the first time. I definitely recommend having someone experienced to teach you the important steps in canning. You could read the step-by-step in a book but you know how it is, a question that needs to be answered right at that very moment would not be addressed, like: "why has my water turned an apple colour?" "Oh! a lid has popped off! That's never happened to me before!" Of course not, because these wacky things only happen to me and everything is always an adventure. No big deal, she takes the jar out and that one gets tossed. Had I been alone with the book and the steps, I'd be looking through the index for Qs & As or tips or I'd be Googling what to do with the rest of the jars... Turns out, it's no big deal! There's no stress in preserving, just make sure everything is very, very clean!  I now have 7 jars of very yummy apple butter all preserved and waiting for the middle of winter to be opened and enjoyed on some toast or maybe mixed in with some plain yogurt. I also have 2 still very full bags of apples and some cider left over so I might just make another batch... but not tonight, cause tonight I have to go to bed early. Back to work tomorrow after 12 great weeks of summer vacation :)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

A few years ago I came across a recipe for butternut squash and apple soup. I have since made many different variations of it and I don't use exact measures for soup but basically the recipe is as follows:

1 medium butternut squash 
1 large apple (I leave the peel on but you can remove it)
1 onion
1 carrot
1 potato 
1 clove garlic
4 cups of chicken stock (enough to cover the vegetables)
Olive oil
Salt


Directions:


Heat oven to 425F.


1 - Pierce squash with a fork several times all around and microwave until soft enough to slice through (about 5 mins). *It will be hot when you remove it from the microwave so use an oven mitt.
2 - Place squash flesh side up on a baking sheet, remove seeds. Cut apple in quarters, remove core and place in the hole. Cut carrot into large chunks and onion into quarters and place on baking sheet. Lightly coat the squash and apples, the carrots and the onions with olive oil.  I salt the vegetables after I have oiled them. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Check the squash with a fork, it should be really soft. The apples might look like they exploded but that's ok. 
3 - Peel and chop potato into bite size pieces (don't worry if they're a bit big, they will be pureed). In a large pot on medium, add a bit of olive oil and the potatoes. Finely chop the garlic and add to potatoes. Season with salt.
4 - When squash is done, scoop out the flesh and add to potatoes along with the onions, carrots and apples. If you're scooping while adding and the garlic starts to brown, turn the heat down a bit and add some chicken stock. 
5 - Once all the vegetables are in the pot, add the rest of the stock. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are done about 10 minutes. 
6 - When potatoes are ready, puree until smooth and adjust seasoning.


Sometimes I top it with sour cream or toasted pumpkin or squash seeds. You can also swap the carrot and potato for a sweet potato. Good luck!

Living local, loving local

Last year I made a New Year's resolution to feed my family seasonal produce. This meant discovering clever ways to turn those wax turnips into a yummy dish my kids will eat because they're one of the few Ontario vegetables available in winter. That's not to say we don't occasionally eat broccoli in winter, but we don't eat tomatoes from abroad and I make a conscious effort to pick the products grown close to home. Choosing local produce over imported may seem like a daunting task but with a few great recipes and some meal planning, it can certainly be done, at least as the majority of choices.

This summer, I took leave from work to stay home with my boys. My boys are a very big part of my life and they love to spend time with mommy, especially in the kitchen. I love to teach them about the food we eat and where it comes from. We have a nice sized garden in the backyard and they help me plant, water and harvest every year. They know what goes into the compost (vs. garbage) and they have learned (after many screaming matches) that the rain barrel is not easy access to water for their dump trucks. Grocery shopping is rarely something I get to do alone so I try to teach them about reading the labels and making conscious choices. I mean really, why buy apples from the Southern Hemisphere? 

The choices I make are partly environmental, but they're also in support of the local economy, better for my wallet and better for my health. Surely my grand-mother's boiled turnip, carrot, potato and beef stew in the winter made more sense all around then a cobb salad. This summer I had the chance to drive around my area and find some great farmers who sell wonderful produce but also eggs, cheese, beef, chicken and pork. I took my boys along for the ride and they now know that we go to the farm first, before the big supermarkets.

It was so nice to take the time and drive around and shop here and there but the reality is, I go back to work on Tuesday. I will be commuting 2 hours a day, working 8 hours, coming home to rush and get dinner on the table, clean up, lunches, bath time, homework, piano lessons, swimming lessons, maybe a yoga lesson in there for me once in a while... This blog will be about trying to stay local while working full-time and raising my family. I will also include some recipes that my family enjoys (or at least I do, which means they will eventually, right?) which might give you some inspiration to buy a root vegetable or a funny looking squash once in a wile.