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Being a Good Steward of the Earth

Ah, Spring! Blossoms abound, and the buzzing of bees and twittering of birds are hard to ignore. It is a time when most of us feel happily connected to the earth. The days are getting longer and the landscape gets greener. Really, what’s not to like? But are we truly connected to the planet? Do we understand what helps keep the planet healthy? Perhaps it’s a good idea that we have Earth Day on April 22 to remind us to be responsible planetary citizens.

Did you know that Earth Day has been around since 1970? A U.S.  senator first launched the idea – he wanted to bring attention to the environment after seeing the effects of an oil spill in California. He capitalized on the enthusiasm of student protests from the late 1960’s, and organized a group to promote events across the nation. There were 20 million Americans in the streets on April 22nd that first year in support of a healthy, sustainable planet. In 1990 the program was taken to the world, and Canada was one of the nations to adopt it. Almost thirty years later we are still working to maintain our environment.

Natural food has always been at the heart of the environmental movement, not just because of nutrition and eating seasonally and locally but also now with the affects of chemicals on animals, soil and air. Talk of bees and other pollinating creatures being at risk due to changes in our environment add another layer of danger to our natural world.

Can I plant enough wildflowers to help the bees win their battle? Can I convince enough children that they can make a difference if they eat a fresh apple instead of processed applesauce made across the world, or have homemade salad dressing instead of something in a bottle with added preservatives and sugar?

I spend time with kids in my volunteer work, both through Girl Guides and the Farm to Fork education programs in which I take part. Kids are aware of being responsible about recycling and not wasting energy, but they are also used to consuming processed packaged food and using all kinds of products to make life easier.

Products and packaging end up in the earth through landfills or sewers, despite the bits that gets recycled. Sometimes I wonder if we haven’t just adapted through technology – we have more ways to be earth-conscious, but we consume more stuff so we just recycle more. I am grateful for the sincerity and enthusiasm the kids have. It gives me hope to see their passion for our planet; they want to make it a better place.

Is Earth Day one you will mark on your calendar? Do you feel you make an effort towards having a sustainable planet? I remember 1990 – I was in the bicycle business back then, and the shop I managed was very keen to promote cycling as a clean mode of transport. I met a guy named Dave who became a guru for many of us at the shop. He was trying to live a pure life, he said, getting in touch with Nature. He wore hemp clothing, and was a vegetarian.

The most striking thing about Dave was the aura of peace he had. He wanted to be your friend, to hear what you were about. He thought if we could all just slow down and take the time to hear each other’s stories that perhaps we could find common ground where we could live in harmony. We called him Dave Zen.

A few years later I left the bike business and Calgary and I lost touch with Dave Zen. I have often wondered over the years what became of him. I imagine him in a community somewhere, a sort of co-operative where people have found the secret to a long and happy life. When I spend time with the kids, sometimes I see the same glimmer in their eyes that I saw in his, and that makes me smile.

So, in honour of Earth Day, my recipe this week is one from Dave. It may look overly healthy and you might be suspicious as a result, but trust me, Dave Zen Orbit Oatmeal Cookies are truly awesome. They taste the best when you eat them outside in the fresh air 🙂

Get right in it!

One of the things I love about cooking is the hands-on approach. You have to touch the food, feel how it behaves as you mix it, taste it as you transform it. Cooking is a never-ending discovery of sensations.

As I was making Peanut Butter Criss Cross Cookies this afternoon it occurred to me that Spring Break started this weekend in the Okanagan. With apologies to anyone allergic to nuts, I thought what a great recipe this would be for kids to make.


Cookies are always a good thing to start with for a young cook and who doesn’t want to get their hands right in the bowl?! Squishing the dough between my hands as I made balls to be “criss-crossed” with a fork took me back to my childhood. There was a delicious sense of abandon at being able to get messy on purpose.

Okay, the secret is out – I live a double life. I love to be a girl, dressing up and being feminine and soft and delicate; I also love getting down and dirty in the kitchen and the garden. Is that bad? I don’t think so – the opposite nature of the two sides has helped me find a balance in my life, and feeling food and the earth it grows in keeps me connected to the universe.

So I suppose as much as the big kid in me just thinks kids would love messing around, I also believe it gives them roots in the world and connects them to something bigger than just us.

It’s not quite warm enough to muck in the dirt yet (although jumping in puddles is a highly underrated activity, especially with good gumboots). But at least you can get in a bowl of cookie dough and feel the inner peace that comes from creating something.

Happy Spring Break!

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 well.school 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!

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Learning S’more about ourselves

personality type cartoon Happy Gourmand

We like to put things, and people into categories. It seems we can be defined by just about any preference or value and food is no different. Are you a vegetarian, or into the Paleo diet? Maybe you eat gluten or wheat-free. But I’ll bet you never sat down and thought about what kind of marshmallow personality you have…

Summer arrives officially next week and with it comes the bonfires on camping holidays and on the beach as twilight fades and everyone settles in for the night. It’s a season for a bit of indulgence, and so it’s only fair that eating salad and fresh fish is then offset with a few s’mores around said campfire, don’t you think?

smores supplies

For the few deprived people out there who might actually not know what a s’more is, it’s the combination of a roasted marshmallow and chocolate in between two graham wafers, usually considered a campfire snack (i.e making them in the microwave doesn’t really count) They are so named because they taste like “s(ome) more” (imagine saying it with a mouthful of marshmallow, kind of like the “fluffy bunny” game).   Girl Guide campfireFull disclosure: As a Girl Guide leader for many years I have to tell you I consider myself a s’more specialist, but I am here to tell you there is plenty of room outside the box!  Here is what I can tell you about s’more habits and what they have taught me about people:

Do you like to burn your marshmallow? – You’re the impatient type, aren’t you?

Do you roast your marshmallow slowly to a perfect golden brown? – You have high standards.

Do you like to roast the end of the marshmallow, figuring out the angle needed so it won’t slide off the stick but will get toasty? – You will do well in physics 🙂

Do you have a special roasting stick you use, with extra features like telescoping or rotating knobs? – You might want to watch that obsessive tendency to make everything a project.

Is there a burning desire in you to parade around the campfire with your marshmallow ablaze, waving it to put the fire out? – You should be careful, you could traumatize someone for life if that marshmallow ends up in their hair (cousins can be especially known for this flamboyant habit, I have discovered)Flaming marshmallow

Do you like to stuff your chocolate into your toasted marshmallow so it melts more? – You will be a foodie when you grow up.

Do you prefer to use chocolate covered graham wafers instead of chocolate because you hate waiting for the chocolate to melt? – You burned your marshmallow, didn’t you??

Did you bring additional fillings for your s’more, like cherry pie filling or peanut butter, or change from the traditional graham wafer? – You will lead a life full of adventures.

In the Okanagan summer, it can be challenging to have a campfire once things heat up. But right now we have had some rain and you should be just fine to load up your s’more ingredients with the rest of the camping tackle. When it does get hot, you can try what we used to do at Brownies with the young girls and make mini s’mores over a tealight, using mini marshmallows roasted on a skewer and combined with chocolate chips and teddy grahams. (I know, too cute, right?) Regardless of the crazy habits of your bonfire buddies, you can revel in the sheer joy of summer indulgence. After all, a s’more is not an everyday normal sort of thing.

normal cycle

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