Get to Know Your Food

supermarket veggies

You might think this week that I am espousing the idea of introducing yourself to the vegetables in the supermarket (“How do you do, Mr. Potato Head, my name is Kristin”). Well, I’m not far off that tactic. I am writing in support of the “food revolution” concept that has been brought to light by celebrity chefs Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver… just in time for the students to be back in school and learning, not to mention eating packaged lunches.

Alice Waters is a chef in Berkeley, California. She started The Edible Schoolyard project twenty years ago, and it is now thriving in communities across the U.S. Students not only eat the food from the garden they plant but they learn science lessons and social studies concepts through the garden as well.

Jamie Oliver has worked with schools in the UK and U.S. to try and improve the quality of school lunches and educate families on eating healthy and realistically on their budgets. He has founded The Jamie Oliver Food Foundation to encourage people to educate and inspire people about cooking and eating lunch from scratch

Stephanie Alexander is a chef and cookbook author in Australia. In 2009 she wrote The Kitchen Garden Companion for families to learn how to grow and use edible crops in their everyday eating. Her food education program through The Kitchen Garden Foundation now works in over 800 schools across the country.

All these projects and others like them prove time and time again that kids can enjoy good wholesome food, and it’s not harder or more time-consuming to prepare. Families can maintain good food habits with food education and children learn better when they are well nourished. So why don’t we do more of it? It seems the focus is often not quite on the mark… Alice Waters had this to say when asked about some of the mainstream improvements being made in school system lunch programs:

“Although many school districts are trying to improve the food they offer, the results have been unsatisfying”, she said. “It’s useless to coat frozen chicken nuggets with whole-wheat bread crumbs and fill vending machines with diet soda.”

school lunch processed

Education about food is something we all take for granted, and unfortunately this is a topic we are all starting to fail, not just in terms of children but for adults, too. I think Alice Waters’ frustration is very valid and deserves attention even here in Canada, as we have much the same situation. I know not everyone can enjoy their own garden, or maybe not even get to the farmer’s market, but does that mean they shouldn’t see local food? And when I say local food, I don’t mean KFC from the local outlet (tongue firmly planted in cheek here – no offense to KFC).

Our world has changed from when my parents were kids, and certainly from the day of my grandfather’s stories – most food is bought in large chain stores now, and most things are available year-round. Many foods that people buy now have a list of ingredients as they are already in some degree prepared. I think to some degree we have lost sight of the importance in knowing our food, or at least what is in it. Did you know that some form of refined sugar is in most processed foods, even savoury ones like spaghetti sauce and soups? I am not saying sugar is the source of all evil, but since we are eating more if we are eating what is in those cans, we need to remember that when we eat the rest of our food. Personally, I like my sugar in dessert and I like herbs in my spaghetti sauce. (I know that a spoonful of sugar with tomatoes is a good cook’s secret, but that is one spoonful per recipe, not per serving.)

The technology we have today does offer us advantages. We can preserve things in tetra boxes or packaging with preservatives. Machines in factories make prepared meals cheaper so busy families can eat on the fly. Maybe in the not-too-distant future they will think of ways to make spaghetti sauce grown on the vine, and they will feed tuna mayonnaise so lunches could be even easier to make – maybe they could even slice it and freeze it with bread on either side so that your tunafish sandwich was ready to go!

Do I sound ridiculous? Well, I am sure if I asked my grandfather how he felt about the packaged products we eat continuously, he would think the current state of affairs was ridiculous too. A large portion of our population is overweight and unhealthy because of the food they eat – or perhaps I should say because of the food they don’t eat. We can fix the situation, but it does take all of us to do it. Kids should know that putting fresh fruit on their yogurt is healthier than eating flavoured yogurt. They should understand that a 12 ounce can of soda usually has the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of sugar in it (the recommended daily limit). They should know that food comes from farms and gardens, not supermarkets and factories. We should all get to know our food, and that does mean re-introducing ourselves to the ingredients (the ones we can actually pronounce in the packages).

So, take your kids grocery shopping and engage them in the process. If you don’t have kids, do the work yourself. Step out of your usual routine and try a new meal, or try to cook from scratch one day a week – make it a group project! Encourage children to eat raw fruit and veggies for snacks instead of prepared fruit leather or granola bars. Let them taste ingredients as you cook; get them excited about food. And if you have a garden at your school, ask about it. If it’s not being used, how could you start using it? Maybe next year it could have some new shoots!


La Fête du Muguet, or May Day

vintage Pentecost card

vintage Pentecost card from Germany, 1906

I like old-fashioned traditions,and the way they often make us slow down and smell the flowers… sometimes literally. Today is May Day, or Pentecost, when in days of old townspeople might have raised a Maypole and celebrated by decorating it, dancing around it (and of course eating and drinking!) Maypole traditions are said to represent perhaps a sort of pagan worship celebrating Mother Nature and even procreation. In some cultures girls and boys would dance around the pole in opposite directions with ribbons, making an intricate design, supposedly a dance of love. Spring does seem to be a lustful season, after all.

The tradition with which I became endeared was a French one, from my year of living in Nancy. Dating back to 1561 when King Charles IX received a bouquet of Lilies of the Valley as a gift on May 1, this gentle offering has become a country-wide pastime. Families and friends head to the forest early in the morning to pick flowers. When I was in Nancy, I saw roadside stands with little bouquets at the ready, tied with lovely little ribbons. They are given to loved ones, or even to friends and family, as a sign of affection. My mom and I remember this tradition most affectionately, sending greetings to each other wherever we are in the world. She once pestered a number of florists in the Okanagan to find some Lilies of the Valley to send me at my office! I planted some in my garden so I can take a picture every year. This year they have even managed to bloom as of today :)

lily-of-the-valley_May Day

May 1 is now also called Labour Day in France, and much of Europe, and it celebrates workers’ rights. I think that follows along nicely; it’s a good thing to show affection for someone’s hard work.

So, Happy May Day! Here’s hoping someone makes you smile today, and that you have time to smell the flowers.

The best present is time 


My dad always made a big deal about drinking his coffee in a “real cup”. He would never visit Starbucks because they only offered “to go” cups and he was NOT going to bring his own cup if he had to pay for the coffee. I used to think he was just getting to be an old-fashioned curmudgeon. Now that I’m sitting here with my delicious latte in a ceramic mug and homemade banana bread I completely understand what he meant. 

Perhaps part of my understanding comes from not having my dad around to share a coffee anymore. I value highly all those coffee breaks we did get. He left us far too soon; I had so many more conversations in me to have over so many more cups of coffee. 

I went to see “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” at the theatre this past week – it was delightful, full of one-liners uttered by wise old characters who know how absurd the world can be.  The best line of all was “the best present is time”. So true.

So, I’m taking this moment … To remember my wonderful Daddy and to leave you with my thoughts :) Take a moment for yourself soon, even if you feel you have to steal it. It’s the best present you can give yourself and your loved ones. 

And thanks to Giobean Cafe in Kelowna for the wonderful coffee and goodies. My Dad would have loved you guys. 

Trendy Recipes and Foodie Bloggers

eat different sign

I write a weekly column for a local website, Castanet, about foodie stuff and last week I featured some of the popular food trends of 2015. Food and eating has become more trendy in itself, with quotes everywhere and information to be had behind every click of the mouse.

There were some interesting recipes I found in my list, so I thought it would be fun to include them in my archives here. I’m also going to mention here some of the bloggers and chefs I find myself returning to often for recommendations and ideas. I hope you enjoy this meander into the web of seemingly infinite opportunities!

My first mention was BURGERS – go figure. All kinds of weird and wonderful ingredients are possible… I don’t know about some combinations (a squid slider?!) but I did have oyster burgers a few times and they were delicious. My favourite recipe for this is from Jamie Oliver – his Carpetbag Burger (great name too, don’t you think?)

Next up was WAFFLES, with savoury toppings. I do have a great recipe already, for Pecan Waffles. They are equally good with fruit compote and yogurt, maple syrup and sausages, or BBQ – chicken or pulled pork both work :) pulled pork and waffles I’m also a big fan of the food truck, Wafels & Dinges. I got to eat from one of their trucks on a foodie trip to New York a bunch of years ago; now they are so big you can do a tour of their factory in Brooklyn.

The trend of making up words entered into the next entry, “BRINNER”. Well, my mom used to serve apple pancakes for lunch on a cold winter day, so waffles and BBQ for dinner wouldn’t be a big reach. Years ago when I lived in France it wasn’t uncommon for us to make a salad for dinner on a busy weeknight, with a bit of bacon and poached egg. If you like poached eggs, it’s a nice change from meat and potatoes. You can pair some interesting wines with it too.

Doughnut Plant pb&j

an all-time fave, the PB and J from Doughnut Plant NYC

GYROS and DONUTS are foods that aren’t exactly practical for many to try at home, but it can be fun to find a local haunt and support them. Big cities are full of fun ethnic foods and fusion combinations that can broaden your horizons.  This speaks to the next trend in my list, the I DARE YOU foods.  In smaller communities, my experience is that farmer’s markets can hold wonderful secrets (and vendors often know about places that use weird and wonderful ingredients).

CRAFT BEVERAGES are also very trendy, and the locations and atmosphere have become increasingly competitive and innovative – more fun for customers. My humble advice here is check out social media and look for knowledgeable staff at establishments who can help make recommendations for you. Here’s a  great craft beer primer and a few cocktail possiblities to get you started.

Preserved foods are a big category, and a few items are especially trendy. SALT COD or baccalau as it’s called in the Mediterranean, is a tasty fish. I loved the flavours when we sampled it for the first time in a tapas bar in San Sebastian, Spain. To use it you have to rehydrate it and cut the saltiness which takes a couple of days, so if you want to cheat you can try a recipe with fresh haddock instead. Mario Batali has recorded a traditional favourite salt cod recipe from Italy if you’re game.

I like pickles

My inspiration for the article was PICKLES and so I have to include a link for you on that topic. One of my favourite bloggers is Deb Perelman from Smitten Kitchen and she has a great recipe for a sort of pickled salad that is designed for people who aren’t pickle fans, so that should motivate just about everyone! dr Seuss pickles

Whether you try any of these recipes, or just enjoy a bit of armchair virtual nibbling then Bon Appetit. And if you’re looking for some other bloggers to follow, might I suggest checking out the Saveur Magazine awards list? There are lots to choose from, including a Special Interest category that has bloggers with dietary restrictions or preferences and other passions they want to share!

Pillows of Goodness

Sunday night I made gnocchi for the first time. We had been planning to have gnocchi all winter and with the sighting of the first robin we thought we’d better get to it. I was a bit daunted with such an ambiguous recipe but I poured a glass of wine and tried to channel my best Julia Child. 

The wanted a simple recipe and we already had some cooked potatoes so I did what anyone does these days – I searched for the “best gnocchi” recipe using potatoes. Here’s what I got::

2 potatoes

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

The recipe called for cooking the potatoes in salted water (check!) and then mashing them. I put mine through a ricer to get more texture. Then I was to add the egg and work in the flour, kneading until the dough reached “the right consistency”. Great, a lot of help that was – what’s “right”? 

Reading the comments in reviews of recipes on the Internet can be very useful, and this time they were invaluable. One person said to go with weight for the potatoes, working with 2 lbs and adding the flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough was resilient but not stiff. Another reviewer cautioned against kneading the dough like you would for bread as the gnocchi would end up tough. He said to gently knead it and then form a snake with the dough. 

Cutting the snake into chunks gives you the gnocchi, which if you roll them over the back of a fork will allow them to catch more sauce. My own two cents was to add a dash more salt, some pepper and some dried thyme to the flour, to add to the final flavour combination. 

The cooking method was to put the gnocchi in salted boiling water and pull them out when they floated. 

That part worked beautifully. I took one more piece of reviewer advice: add the cooked gnocchi to your hot sauce so they  absorb more of the sauce’s flavours. 

So, the recipe I found worked was 2 lbs of potatoes with 1-1/2 cups flour and a tiny bit more for rolling the snakes. For 2 people we had plenty for dinner by cooking only half. The remainder we froze on a baking sheet and later put in a ziplock bag. 

My husband said that gnocchi are sometimes referred to as “pillows of goodness”. As I took my first bite with our homemade prawn bisque, served with monkfish and beans, I could certainly see why. 

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