Sunday, February 27, 2011

100-mile diet Bread for Edmontonians

Whole Wheat, Flax and Hemp Honey Bread
I've been meaning to bake a "Local Edmonton" loaf of bread for a while. Finally did it! All the ingredients were sourced from Alberta Avenue Farmer's Market vendors; all of whom live within the 100 mile diet parameters to downtown Edmonton.  

In the recipe, the ingredients marked with an * are the only ones I couldn't easily locally source. 

A big thanks to the Farmers who made this fantastic evening snack a reality:

John Schneider @ Gold Forest Grains grew the organic golden flax seeds and milled the organic whole grain flour
Arie Neufeld @Ma-Be Farms fed the chickens which brought me some beautiful eggs.
"Hemp Guy" (I'll remember his name sometime tonight)  sold me the locally grown and hulled hemp seeds.
Joseph and Christine Kent @ Coal Lake Honey Farm harvested then sold me some tasty, well priced honey.

The Recipe: 
(makes 1 loaf)

1. Heat oven to 375 F.

2. Mix EVERYTHING together (I'm not fussy about order of ingredients and neither seems to be my yeast):

- 3 C whole wheat flour
- 1/2 T instant yeast*
- 1/2 t salt *
- 1/4 C hulled hemp seeds (or substitute other seeds, but these are so high in omega 3s!)
- 1/4 C golden flax seeds
- 3 T vital wheat gluten (sold where most 'Red Mill' products are sold)*
- 2 T honey
- 1 egg
- 1 1/4 C luke warm water
3. When too stiff to mix, knead for another 2 minutes. Add water or extra flour if needed to make an elastic, smooth dough.

4. Leave it to "rest" for 5 minutes.

5. Shape into loaf or buns. Let rise up to 2 hours.

6. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden on top and hollow sounding (when you flick it)

7. Slice, slather with butter and enjoy.

For more Bread Making 101 tips check out this PDF I developed for my workshops.

If I had let it 'cold rise' in the fridge for a few days, I think I'd have had a little more rise. But I was happy with this considering its 100% whole wheat (this is mostly thanks to the vital wheat gluten!)

Seedy Saturday- Chives

Chives grow throughout my flower gardens, however there is one bunching burst of green that makes me particularly happy.  It grows from a dark pot on the deck and its bobbing, nodding purple flowers offer splats of colour June through August. Like a pair of Camper Shoes, they're pretty and practical in equal measure. Three steps is all it takes me from the kitchen door to the pot. Six steps and I'm back to the stove with a burst of flavour for supper.

The flowers look like a large clover flower, though its colour and fragrance are more poignant. They remind me of the flower Horton found the Who's on; that regularly makes me smile. Close up I can't help wondering aloud to Madi, "Just what else lives on that speck there? And who's to say we aren't floating precariously on a speck of our own?"

Besides stirring some curious existential questions, I find the flowers a nice, mild treat to eat. Like a french marigold you can pop the flower right into your mouth. The texture is a little weird (never mind what all those Who's will do to your bowels), but their flavour is unique from the green bits.

Speaking of the green bits- they can be snipped off at any occasion and added to any dish (no lie!). Not only tasty, as a design element the greenery is a fantastic contrast to many flowers and herbs. People always use those Dracaena-type grasses, however I think that a couple pots with chives as the spiky centre is way more unique and practical. If its harvested around the outside edges in a plant feature, it maintains a nice tall, narrow shape.

My chives come from a couple sources. The first chives I planted were from my friend's mom, since once established they are easily shared. The second group grew from seed sown directly in the garden. They grow back faithfully ever year and each spring I split them and pop the transplants throughout the yard. For me, they flower happily in both part- shade and sunny spots.

With the potted chives, I am pretty lazy at the end of the year. I simply move the pots into the unheated, detached garage where they overwinter. When the spring melt begins, I bring the pot out and watch delighted as my chives reawaken in time to garnish my steak off the BBQ.

To buy garlic chives (with white flowers), check out Salt Spring Seeds where I've bought at least half my seeds the last couple years. Of course, Richters has an incredible selection of chive seeds on pg. 15 of its catalogue. Find it here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Doing it Right the First Time

In my stocking, this year, I got a fridge magnet. It read:

Why is there never time to do it right, 
but there's always time to do it twice?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Is it a bad thing that my "style" blares from the bold font of a kitchen knicknack?

A couple summers ago, Mat and I bought a cool (cute) old school (looking) scooter from a couple in St. Albert.  Their house was pristine. Their garage- OMG- their garage!! All walls had those metal cabinets that fit snuggly together; there wasn't a rogue screw, tool or pipe to be seen. In fact, I saw not one drop of oil or varnish staining the scrubbed cement. 

Every time we visited (we ended up there three times) the couple invited us in for drinks. On our second visit it came up that we struggled to finish things. Scooter Man tisked and shook his head wildly, "No, no, no! You MUST finish things 100%. It's imperative for your financial and emotional health." 

I'm not sure what he knows about emotional health, but certainly financially they had done very well.

In the couple months that followed we reflected often on his horrified expression and encouraging coaching- is 100% even possible for our two laid-back, attention deficit personalities?

As we stepped back to assess, we saw that we finish most things about 80%. We take out the garbage- but only to the back gate (then it all piles up in a stinking mess until we finally think to take it the last 20% to the alley). We paint the walls, then grow tired before we finish the sanding and painting of the trim. We put new flooring in the upstairs, and leave nailing on trim to 'another day' which never does come. 

Last year we took on the project of our front entrance way and determined to finish it 100%- meaning every hook needed to be screwed in, back stop installed, bench stained, paint complete, pictures hung. And did it! It took us a couple more days than planned- but we did it.

As we've continued to encourage ourselves towards finishing things (and finishing them well!), I think the most significant obstacle to this is the way we budget TIME. We never give ourselves the time to finish. Projects always go longer than expected, the garbage always is taken out as we're late for a meeting. (Some might say we also don't consider 'cleaning things up' to be a huge priority.) 

This last weekend, I had a hankering for a project. I wanted to paint our dining and living rooms plus add a plate rail and built-in book case. As we planned the budget and shopping list-- we looked at each other. Memory of Scooter Man was shouting in my ear and I took a tentative glance at our kitchen.

It's been 80% done for 3 years now. How could we start another project with the kitchen sitting awaiting some lovin'? So we pulled on our Responsible Adult hats, set our faces to 'grim', and started the nasty job of sanding cabinets, re-jigging doors and adding ceiling trim.

Hopefully this post isn't just a form of procrastination (from the cutting in currently needed on the cabinets). Its a public declaration that: I really will try to finish things better.

Mat does the curse-incurring work of ceiling trim.

The cabinets Mat build (saving some of the base cabinets on the right wall), but the paint has begun to peel. Also a number of the bottom doors never have quite fit. There is some problem-solving required!

The backsplash is wallpaper--- and we always meant to spray it a metallic colour. Then we didn't and its gotten gucky, grey and stained, of course.

The inside of the cabinet Mat is painting was never painted (we even painted 80%!). Now, we're painting it all. The blue is actually an undercoat to be covered with 'navajo white'. We think that if we "distress" or "antique" the cabinets- more on that later- we may not have to worry so much about stripping paint in the future. Maybe?!?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Seedy Saturday: Borage

Borage  planted as a border in the back alley. I wanted to attract bees to my lacklustre squash (check out the post on sex in the squash patch for more on that).

I first heard of borage at a workshop with the Urban Farmer, Ron Berezan. He had a small seedling available to touch and sample. On tasting a small, tender leaf I was surprised by its flavour: mild, and a touch minty (to my palate). I decided to seed it in a stretch of garden that had been stripped of grass (the same stretch that I planted the strawberries a few seasons later).

The plants have a thick, hollow stem and their habit is large and sprawling. I've planted it both on the north and south side of a fence and its stretched profusely on both sites, irregardless of the sun. They have an abundant number of purple to blue bell shaped flowers that have a mild nutty flavour (with no acid kick when you swallow it).  As a garnish on cakes and salads, they add an unusual colour and flavour. I've also frozen them in ice cubes for a nice effect at summer parties. Harvest can happen throughout the summer and well into fall.

To eat, pick the more tender leaves. As the leaves get larger, their soft fur becomes more prickly (not as harsh as hops  but more abrasive than the hairs on sunflower stems).  Chop them up and use in pesto (like I did here), or pasta sauce, or to flavour pork or beef. They also make a nice cold tea: flavoured with lemon and mint.

Borage is an annual that copiously self seeds. I decided to move it from its original location- where I wanted to plant more fruit- to a weedy and forlorn stretch around my garbage nook in the back alley.  The bees love this plant. I have it paired with icelandic poppies and cilantro so when I throw out my garbage, I'm always treated with the sound of working bees, a bursting rainbow of colours, and some cilantro mixed in with the usual garbage smell.

There are a couple things to note about this plant before sowing-- plant it and you will have it every year, as borage seeds are tough little gaffers in our cold climate. The seedlings are large (they look a little like a squash seedling) and are easy to pull, but they really do come up everywhere. Also, the large, adult plant's hairs can be tough for sensitive skin. I handle it with my hands fine, but when I clear up the plants I need long sleeves to protect the softer skin on my arms.

Borage is a great herb, a brilliant bee magnet, and a hardy self-seedier. I also think this plant would be great in a guerilla gardener's seed box-or bombs!

Richters sells the seeds (see catalogue number below). However, if you are in the Edmonton area and  you want to snag some seedlings from me, please email. I'm always pulling them out and am happy to save them from the compost!

BORAGE (Borago officinalis)
Known as the Herb of Gladness for its exhilarating effect. Try adding chopped young leaves and flowers to salads or summer drinks. On those sweltering summer days, cool off with iced borage tea, adding honey and lemon juice to taste.
S1470 Seeds: Pkt/$1.50, 100g/$13, 1kg/$73, 10kg/$530 N S1470-001 Seeds: Pkt/$2.75, 10g/$7, 100g/$40, 1kg/$280

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cooking for a Month Attempt #2

We have spent a week eating some pretty fantastic meals from our freezer.

Once again, my childhood friend Katy and I teamed up for a day of cooking. Since my mom was out of the country, our good friend Hannah not only joined us, but hosted the marathon.

If you read about our last experience (check it out here), I gave it a 7/10. This time, I think we're nearing 9. The meals are better both in flavour and "freezability", we did it in less time, plus we added more  meat dishes and used sustainably grown meat and eggs purchased from our local friends Christine of Shooting Star Ranch (elk) and Arie of Ma-Be Farms (beef and eggs) at the Alberta Farmer's Market- for almost the same price as the last trial.

Katy's baby is due in two weeks! Mad lady trooper!
The Stats:

Meal Planning time - 2 hours
Shopping time- 4 hours
Prep/Cook/Clean up time- 10 hours

Meals prepared per family- 18
Servings prepared per family- 120

Cost per family- $220

Each meal averages out to less than an hour of time (including shopping, prep and cleanup!) and about $2 per serving. In the scheme of things, not bad for some damn good meals. Here's a sample of our line up:

-Chicken Manicotti
-Elk Meat loaf
-Italian Sausage and Mushroom Pizza
-Red Pepper Quiche
-Breakfast Burritos
-Beef and Spinach Lasagna
-Black Bean Salsa Soup

Each meal has easily been dinner and a couple lunches for our family of four (two of which don't eat anything but crackers and spaghetti).

How we changed it up:

There were a few things we did differently- and better- this time:

1. We chose recipes that we already liked and knew froze well. So each of us brought some favorites to the table and we worked with that. This took slightly more brain power when it came to creating the shopping list, however one of us wrote out the list in pencil (on five separate sheets of paper, each titled for different sections so we could divide and conquer at the grocery store) as the others read out the ingredients (x3) one at a time. It probably added half hour to the process, over using the book's recipes which were less consistently good.

2. We used locally source beef, elk and eggs. Though we paid slightly more than at Superstore, the meat stretched well. It also has proven to be a lot less fatty, with surprisingly more flavour.

3. We made a huge pot of tomato sauce and used it in a number of recipes. We bought four cans of 100 oz cans of spaghetti sauce at the Italian Centre, then I simply added a whole bottle of pesto. Delicious. it was used to make pizza and lasagna, plus was added to flavour a couple other dishes.

4. We doubled a few of the recipes- meaning we made 6 casserole dishes of Popeye Pasta and Enchiladas. It required significant counter space but shaved 3 hours off our cook day.

Popeye Pasta- lots of beef, spinach and cheese
5. We froze everything outside first, which meant it was less messy stacking the dishes in our freezer at the end of the night. We also used more Ziploc bags to freeze things which is more efficient for the freezer and better for the environment.  I do feel bad about the tin foil casserole tins, but I don't have enough glass ones to spare. We did manage to reuse a few from last month- so hopefully we can stretch the disposable ones over a few cook-offs.

I have just started back working part-time in paid employment and this has been a major treat for both Mat and I as we transition our family into a slightly busier schedule of life. Its taken the edge off, you know what I mean?

I've had a few people tell me they are interested in finding others to try this with-- if that's you, let me know and perhaps I can connect you to others for a blind-date type cook off!

Noisy Kids Must Be German Too?

So I came across this link today and giggled for a long time. I don't know what you think about children being seen and not heard, but until I start giving birth to babies with volume knobs behind their right ear, my home will ring with "Children's Reverb".  Maybe now I'll be able to bring my kids along on a trip to Germany?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Seedy Saturday- Wild Strawberries

A strawberry valley sits tucked at the base of the hulking Ptolomey mountain range, in the Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. In my memory, the wind (a constant force of life in the Pass) missed that valley and allowed the sun to fully soak the wild onions, Indian Paintbrush and thistle with heat that smelled of sweet licorice.

Every summer my family of six would unload from our white, 14 passenger van and hunt for wild strawberries in this small pasture. Tiny nuggets of pure gold to the tongue. Warm and sweet- they belonged in our mouths1 Unfortunately, the fruit didn't appear to agree, hiding itself well behind creased, multi-pointed leaves that hugged the ground.

When it came for me to plant my first strawberries in the garden, I bought the ones the garden centres sell. I have a number of varieties and all are more delicious than the berries that travel in plastic clamshells to the supermarket. However, they have never satisfied my hunger for their smaller, sweeter cousins.

When I began looking to buy some wild strawberries last year, I had no luck sourcing the actual plants so I googled "wild strawberry seeds". They turned up on ebay, of all places, and I purchased two packets of 50 seeds.

They arrived in April and I planted half of them in my square foot boxes right away. I then planted a flat of 25 indoors and set it on my south facing window sill.

Both grew! The ones I planted in the garden were slower to sprout, but remember snow continued to fall into May 2010 for us in Edmonton. In mid-June I transplanted all the seedlings into a narrow section of garden bordered by a walkway and fence. Through the summer they grew happily in the part-shade, and quickly began to send out their magical little arms- the ones with fingers that touch the earth and grow a new plant.

Last time I checked Richters Seeds has the seeds for sale. If you are searching, double check for the latin names: Fragaria Virginiana and Fragaria Vesca. These are true wild strawberries- offering aggressive ground cover with many sweet, red rewards. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Snowed in Buccaneers

While the temperatures may be inching up in this Northern city- I'll happily use the snow as an excuse to stay housebound all Saturday long.

On this cold Saturday, the females of the house found ourselves consumed by the tale of three well meaning, sea-faring thieves (call us Robin Hoods of the Oceanlands). Inspired by a map of Narnia (Madi has began the journey into Narnia! And her parents are saved from Dr. Suess re-runs), we constructed costumes, a ship, and scenarios involving desperate animals in need of heros.

Madi fixes her eye patch as I take time away from my telescope to check our coordinates.

Madi returns from a journey saving the animals of... err... the Serengeti of Narnia. The wheel is a master's carving, decorated with gems and fabric from lands that lay far East of the Silk Road (found at a dollar store nearest you).

Madi's idea- she wanted "a flag that flapped". I kept trying scarves, but they didn't flow to her liking. So we tried toilet paper. It fluttered in the north winds (aided by our summer fan dug from deep storage).

What is it about pirates and children? What do you think: Are they villains sanitized purely for our children's amusement?  Or is it our twisted way of empathizing with the marginalized who's basic survival is too often criminalized- and punished without impunity? 

Lily had a tendency to rip the ship apart, but she managed to play a critical part in Madi and my script: the baby lost at sea who we saved at the expense of ourselves (and our sanity).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bed Bugs are Gross...

I am happy to report that we have yet to bring bed bugs into our home, despite their rampant takeover of most of Edmonton's condos, apartments and second hand shops. But I'm beginning to realize its not an outside possibility. I need to mentally prepare for the possibility.

"Even new clothing has been found to have bugs at varying stages of growth," said one expert speaking to my sister-in-law's inner city agency staff.

Last weekend, I had the misfortune of seeing all four stages of the bug- whitish eggs huddled around a dowel on a close friend's bed frame. Among the eggs were small, dark dots of larvae that moved ever so slightly. The larger stage 2 and 3 bugs stretched between 2 and 4 mm from head to bottom- and reminded me, not pleasurably, of the wood ticks I grew up fearing (being raised in the Rockies has its disadvantages).

The bugs had infested my friend's bedroom- and she was instructed that, until the sprayer`s came, she should stay in her room. That way they wouldn't migrate into other parts of her suite hunting for blood (who knew that our blood smelled so good- or strongly!). So she was supposed to camp out in the bed bug nest for the weekend? Waiting out the exterminators?

Instead, I convinced her to come to our place, where she stripped her clothes off in the garage and exchanged them for bed-bug free ones of mine.

We've learned a lot from this:

1. Mattress bed bug covers: Use them! It won't prevent bed bugs, but it will save your mattress if you get them.
2. Most people around the world just deal with pests like this since resources for fighting them are unavailable. One South American friend said that back home they rub bed legs with Vaseline. They also place the feet of their bed in bowls of alcohol (bed bugs can't fly or leap).
3. Heat all second hand AND new clothes or linens in a hot dryer for 20- 35 minutes.
4. Be careful buying second hand furniture. If you happen to have -35 C like I do, perhaps let the furniture freeze for a week or two (and hope the buggers don't go dormant!).
5. Bed bugs are gross. But they aren't the end of the world.

Just recently they've found bed bugs in our Edmonton Public Libraries. No doubt the tricksters are in our mall;s change rooms, school lunchrooms and bus stations.

I wrestle with the fear I feel of these tiny creatures. It makes me think twice about sitting next to the haggard guy on public transit or borrowing books- but what happens when our commons becomes infested?

Is isolating ourselves really the answer?