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A cure for the winter blahs

I am a Prairie girl at heart, I guess. I love clear blue skies and bright days. I love having four distinct seasons, each with its own weather, its own colours. I don’t like being cold, but I don’t mind bundling up if there is sunshine to warm my soul. In the grey, wet days we have so often here in January, bundling up alone does not take away the blahs.

Even when the clouds aren’t thick, the sky isn’t really blue.

I am not particularly fond of grey. Perhaps it is connected to my love of food. There are no grey foods. (The closest I came was trying to mix frozen blueberries into biscuit dough; the result was a weird sort of mauve-grey that was not appealing, but at least still tasty.) I prefer plenty of flavour and colour, in all aspects of my life.

When I say I find solace in food, I don’t mean like eating a tub of ice cream in one night. I prefer to savour things…

  • A cup of tea on a damp day is just the thing to warm one’s bones
  • A cookie can make one forget sadness, even if just for a moment
  • A bowl of soup really does help one’s soul, and it doesn’t have to be made with chicken

All of these things are a way for me to guard against those winter blahs, or to celebrate another day of having survived them.

I am grateful for a fully stocked pantry, and a companion at the table. I am grateful for my cabinet full of cookbooks, like old friends who can regale me with stories of the good old days. I am most grateful for my health; that I can still reach to gather ingredients, get down the stairs to the pantry and back up, bend over for a peek in the oven… even with all the groans from me and creaks from the joints, I realize these are blessings indeed.

In the age of Covid, having my sense of smell and taste are gifts I celebrate more than ever. Is that why I am even more conscious of savouring flavours and aromas? Or perhaps it is the lack of ability to travel that makes me search the spice cupboard for exotic options.

We cannot visit foreign lands or even visit a friend or relative for tea, but we can still eat. The direct connection of our olfactory system to our memory means that we are hardwired to remember experiences when we smell things we have smelled before.

So, my cure for the blahs is to feed my hunger. My hunger not just for food, but for flavour and excitement. It is harder to sustain in the bleakness of winter, especially in these times of lockdowns and restrictions, but I will keep cooking and keep eating, and keep toasting to everyone’s good health. Cheers!

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”

― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

True patriot love

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I woke up this morning to birds chirping. My dog and I had a peaceful walk in the neighbouring orchard and then my husband and I had a leisurely breakfast on the deck, eating the cherries we picked from our tree and enjoying the panoramic views of farm fields and Okanagan Lake in the distance.

I putzed in my gardens today; first the vegetable garden, where we have tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, various lettuces and some herbs. Then I did some tidying in the edible flower garden out back, listening to the hum of the bees and the trickle of water into our little pond. All summer long we will have edible things growing on our little property.

We are conscious of our water consumption, living in an arid climate, but even when restrictions are in effect we can still water plants and drink from the tap.

Hubbie and I stopped for an ice cream cone this afternoon. We could easily afford two scoops each and we chose from over 2 dozen flavours. Like many other decisions here, I could pick whichever one I wanted, without judgement. It didn’t matter that hubbie and I chose differently, and next time I could pick something else. I don’t need to defend my choice, or changing it.

Being a Canadian doesn’t mean I have to shout my patriotism from the rooftop – it is true that many of us are more reserved, less demonstrative than folks of the neighbouring United States. But that doesn’t mean we are any less proud of our nation.

I am so very pleased that I was born and live in a place where life can be good for so many people, and there are so many beautiful corners to enjoy everything from wilderness to urban jungle. I am proud we have farmers and fishers from coast to coast who work to provide us with so much bounty. We celebrate them every day, honouring the land and the sea that surrounds us.

I hope as we move forward that our country can be a good example of how to work towards sustainability.  How great would it be for Canadians to not only be polite and kind but also good stewards of our planet?

Happy Canada Day!

 

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 🙂

Nurtured little sprouts can grow into foodies and chefs!

kids in the garden cartoon

When I was a kid it was common for my peers and I to be commandeered as helpers in the family garden. Some people just had window boxes to worry about, but my parents were always keeners and we rented a duplex with a yard. Our back car stall was converted to a veggie garden and that became my number one summer chore.kids in the garden eating I learned quickly that gardening was not for the lazy, but I also learned that fresh peas and beans and carrots that I helped plant and water and pick were much tastier and more fun to eat than store-bought items.  There wasn’t a farmers’ market where I grew up, but I did learn about where food came from at an early age.

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For the past five weeks I have been working with local chefs as part of a program that helps kids today learn how much fun food can be. Growing Chefs was started in Vancouver in 2005 as a way to transmit the knowledge and share the passion of chefs and growers to kids in urban settings. This is the second year for the program in Kelowna and classes in Comox and all areas of the Lower Mainland are participating as well. Last year over 120 volunteers helped 850 students to experience the fun of growing their own food.

 

In a regular classroom we can only do so much, so I hope that the spark has been ignited for these kids. Maybe they will ask a grown up to take them to a farmers’ market or stop at a fruit stand. Perhaps they will try growing plants in a patio pot or on a windowsill.  Hopefully the flavours excited them enough to make them want to explore with their tastebuds too. Today we made salad dressing from scratch and had them choose ingredients from a salad bar we set up. I loved seeing them – some liked the taste of the dressing on mixed greens,  others liked grated beets and carrots, and then there were some who liked the crunchy sunflower and pumpkin seeds.  The best part was seeing almost the whole class excited about salad – imagine that!

Rabbit Hollow dessert

Chef Martin and his daughter finishing homemade rhubarb cobbler with creme anglaise

At Rabbit Hollow this summer we’re going to explore the farm-to-table idea with families in some of our events.  We will literally take ingredients from the farm to the table, picking them fresh and then working with them in our backyard kitchen and tasting them at the harvest table. Parents and kids will be encouraged (even pushed if necessary) to work together and play with their food.  We hope they will find out that it’s more fun (and tastier) than opening a box from the freezer.

We can all do our part to contribute to a sustainable environment and a life eating real food. Simple things like visiting the markets in summer will open your eyes to local wonders, I promise you!

If you have kids, maybe we’ll see you at Rabbit Hollow this summer (just contact me if you want more information). If you are interested to volunteer for Growing Chefs you can check out their website; they also have great information on planting suggestions for the urban gardener. And if you’re just a big kid like me, then perhaps I’ll see you at one of the local markets or fruit stands. Check out Soil Mate if you are looking for places and ways to connect with fresh food in the Okanagan.

 

Is perfect food bad?

perfect peppers

As a foodie, I like to consider myself close to the earth. I enjoy knowing where my food comes from, and I’m lucky enough to live in a region where lots of stuff is local. There is a fruit orchard on one side of us, a huge vegetable garden out back and an organic vineyard on the other side. We are neighbours with Paynter’s Fruit Market , a beautiful farm stand operation that is owned by a 4th generation farmer in the Paynter family. Blessed? Yup, I think so.

So, you won’t be surprised when I tell you I like my carrots with a bit of dirt on them, and a blemish on my tomatoes is not the end of the world at all. Does that mean I am suspicious of “perfect” food? Perhaps. It seems to represent the industrial production methods we have come to link to all that is bad in the food world – pesticides, GMO’s, lack of care for the workers, animals or plants… But how about if a larger scale operation worked to use the good methods, like beneficial bugs instead of pesticide and heirloom seeds instead of GMOs, and using local labour…

Check out this story from Vancouver, posted recently by a great blogger who talks a lot about local gardens and food. This story details a PR makeover for greenhouse veggies that are seen as “too perfect”. What do you think? Is this an OK deviation from supporting “the little guy”? It seems they are trying to downplay their beauty – an understandable position for a Canadian company – we like to apologize for our success – and educate people about their efforts to be on the right side of the good food debate.

follow "The Green Man" blog for more interesting garden and food news

follow “The Green Man” blog for more interesting garden and food news

I will still do my best to support the small business in my neighbourhood whenever I have a chance, but I don’t mind knowing that there is an awareness to use the same old-fashioned wisdom on a larger scale 🙂

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