Bread doesn`t tolerate silly mistakes…

I used to ride motorcycles.  A lot.

My Mother was a Nurse, my Father a Fire Fighter.  Our Neighbor had been a Policeman.  All of them cautioned me against being on two-wheels.  All of them had seen enough of the bad consequences.

I remember a specific piece of advice from the Policeman who had also been a motorcycle officer at one point.  `The moment you feel cool while driving, pull over and get off – you are in trouble.`  In 5 years and tens of thousands of kilometers of travel (including a trip to Nova Scotia), I managed to stay upright and, more or less, without incident.  The 3 or 4 times that I had my gravest problems all stemmed from feeling cool.

The moment you think you have it nailed, it has a way of reminding you that you don`t.  Motorcycling can be humbling.  Making bread can be the same:

Bread doesn`t tolerate silly mistakes...

What happened?  That`s easy to figure out; the short answer is I felt cool.

This was to be my best bread yet.  For starters, it was part whole wheat.  I knew the farmer that grew the wheat and milled it into flour.  I had taken onions from a neighboring farm, dehydrated them myself and added it to the dough to create an onion-bread like dough.

I mixed the ingredients, using a scale.  I long ago learned that bakers find weight a far more reliable indicator of quantities when baking.  Everything was painstakingly obvious when I, without explanation, through a bunch of water in without being careful to measure.  I added way too much.  I was able to remove some (along with some floating yeast and other ingredients).  Now the entire concoction was a guess.

I then let it rise too long (twice) and I was left with a dough-like resemblance to add to the oven that wasn`t nearly hot enough.

I suddenly felt not-so-cool.  I was, however, able to laugh at myself instantly (I knew long before it entered the stove that I would need a yeasty miracle to pull this one off).

The good news is that we were able to eat the outside crust to get an idea of flavor (the further you cut into this loaf, the more it resembles solid stone).  It was remarkably good and the onions really came together in the taste.

It`s amazing to me how personal the sense of loss over this one was.  I`m not in an overly dramatic morose state of sadness and I am totally fine that I simply made a mistake but I do feel that I let my farmer down, the wheat down and even my poor shrivelled onion.  I know the people that worked far harder than I did to make this bread and I flopped it with an avoidable flick of my wrist.

A good lesson learned – time to try again!

What to do with dehydrated beets and celery root

Yesterday showed part one of this exercise – we dehydrated 5 pounds of beets into chips and did the same with an entire celery root.  A lot of people asked us what we were going to do with them.

Let`s begin at the end.  Our 5 pounds of beets now look like this:

What to do with dehydrated beets and celery root Preserving Recipes Celeriac Beet [Read more...]

Dehydrating beets, onions and celery root

There`s not much I can add to the title other than the photos so let`s start there:

Dehydrating beets, onions and celery root Preserving Recipes Celeriac Beet [Read more...]

They Tapped That (and you can too on Sunday)

We have written about our friends at Not Far from the Tree several times (some of those are here and here).  We simply adore them and have met many great people and friends through them.  Their website is here.

The group was formed by Toronto resident (and New Brunswick native), Laura Reinsborough is a passionate advocate of our city, the environment, local eating and the intersection of all 3.  Laura, along with a small army of volunteers, are changing our city.

The non-profit program started by offering a service to home owners with fruit trees.  Fruit trees are lovely but can be a source of pain through their abundance – once you’ve eaten, shared  and preserved all you can, the remaining fruit often drops to the ground, makes a mess, smells, attract flies, gets in the way of the lawnmower, etc.  Not Far From the Tree will come to your house and clear your tree of all it’s fruit.  1/3 of the fruit goes to the tree owner, 1/3 to the volunteers and 1/3 to charity.

They harvested 8,135 pounds of fruit downtown Toronto last year.

Now they’ve expanded their focus:

They Tapped That (and you can too on Sunday)

The program is largely one to make us think different about the urban forest, our city and food sources.  The program is supported by the city (there had been initial reports of concerns that were completely overcome) and the group has tapped 12 urban Norway Maple trees to gather the syrup.  There is a sugaring off party this Sunday, March 14.  The event runs from 1-4pm (you can find the details here).

T-shirts are also available on their website.

I love the imagination of Laura and her team.  I adore that there will be people gathered around a late winter harvest from within our city walls.

If you’re in the area and want to meet some great people, be sure to pop by.  We haven’t planned our weekend yet but if we can make it, we’ll be there…

New York Schools (and California) ban homemade baked goods

In an effort to curb childhood obesity, the New York school system banned most baked goods.  The ban includes fundraising and was communicated to parents in June though it`s become a hot topic as the impact to the schools, teams and intramural groups is felt much stronger.  Apparently California has done a lot of this in the past.

The original memo is here.

It`s easy to pick things apart and simply protest.  When I first read about this, my reaction was decisive.  I`ve had a chance to count to 3, hold my breath and consider the intent and understand more about what they are trying to accomplish.

Where I continue to struggle is the two main areas children receive food in school (other than from home): the vending machine and the cafeteria.

Vending machines have a new supplier and schools must procure their snacks from them.  The options will include calorie-controlled portions, baked chip-like products, sugar-free granola and the like.  Commercially produced products with `regulated` calorie counts are considered more favourable than homemade food for health.  If we are concerned with such limits why not educate students (and their families), how to calculate calories and portions of their recipes.  Think of the life lessons, impact on family diet and learning that could occur in math, science and health around all of this.  Why can we not hold home chefs accountable to the same standards we apply to commercial producers of food?

When we message that prepackaged food is the only safe way to control caloric, fat and sugar intake, we are in trouble.

The cafeteria also leaves me wanting.  If you were studying in Manhattan this month and a member of the Junior High School or High School Trend lunch menu, you could eat the following diet over the 23-days of March:

  • 9 days of hamburgers
  • 11 days of pizza
  • More choices include tacos, mozzarella sticks, fish nuggets, and chicken tenders.

You can browse all of the school menus here.

It all reminds me of Jamie`s Schhol Dinners (Jamie Oliver) from the UK:

No sleep till Brooklyn (or Manhattan) – looking for New York food ideas

Dana and I have booked our trip to New York and we’re most excited.  4 days in Brooklyn followed by 4 days in Manhattan.  Friends are meeting us for the last half of the trip (Manhattan) – we’ve all been discussing this trip for a few years (since we journeyed to Chicago).

Dana has been to New York several times and adores it.  I have never been and am excited to see it.

We’ve been probing Twitter for the last few days as well as emailing friends (both those who we’ve known in person as well as the digital kind :)) and we’re blown away by the ideas we’ve received so far.  Farms, chocolate shops, farmers market, restaurants, bars and more are all on our hit list.

We’ll be putting together some articles and a Google map of the ideas we receive and share them here (unless you send us a treasured secret that you don’t want shared…laugh).

For now, we’re looking for any other recommendations.  Are there any destinations (places you’ve been, read about, adore or fantasize about) to share out here?  We’d love to hear them.  Use the comments or fire me an email (joel (a) and we’ll share our guide to New York when we return and have compiled our findings!

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet: The Mighty Rutabaga

I have never cooked one.  I didn`t really know what to do with it.  So I bought 4.

The rutabaga is (as I later learned) basically a sweet turnip.  It has a highly waxed exterior that can be peeled with a good peeler or a knife and firm flesh that is solid throughout.  You`ll need a good knife to cut it raw as it`s very solid.

When I got home I scoured a few books.  I found a recipe for glazed turnips by Julia child which I used as my base but derived from there and transformed this into a sweet soup.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet: The Mighty Rutabaga Rutabaga Cooking Recipes Cheap Tuesday Gourmet [Read more...]

Toughest time of year…

The wonderful weather this weekend was an awesome sight.  It was a sign that spring is indeed close; even if it’s not quite as close as it appeared with the warm sun of March.

My lifestyle has changed a lot in the last 2 years.  Writing on conscious food choices (daily) as well as the new friends, conversations and focus that has entered our life as a result has rendered Dana and I into different people.  We still fall back to processed food, and even the occasional fast food, but that is happening less and less.

I really have fallen in love with the humble squash and all it can do.  We’ve had gnocchi, soup, chunks and mashed versions and I’ve loved them all.  We have eaten significantly higher amounts of root vegetables this year than previous years and we’re better off because of it.

We haven’t had the time to trek across the city on the weekends to head to the one winter market I know of (Green Barn Farmer’s Market at Wychwood Barns).  Saturday morning have been reserved to dog parks, hiking and playing in the snow so it’s a good kind of busy and an important kind of busy.

Local stores (large and small) offered choices that worked for us.  Parsnips, carrots, squash, apples, turnips, greenhouse options and more.  It was a fun challenge to fill the cart with items that were local (or localish) and learn what to do with them.

Things began to change about a month to 6 weeks ago.  Most of the same product existed but to buy it local you had to buy in quantity.  You could buy carrots if you were willing to buy a 5-pound bag.  You could buy onions by 10-pounds locally but all of the single onions were imported.  Quantity presents a problem in an apartment with 1 closet and 2 people.

The options have become fewer still.  I have gone to the grocery store 3 or 4 times in a row expecting to come home with a bounty and found myself coming home with less than a bag full as I can’t find the options that I am looking for.  Our preserved vegetables are getting a workout and I’m thrilled we have those to fall back on – tomato soup, canned peas, runner and romano beans.  It’s a reminder to do even more next year.

The frustration is compounded by the knowledge that the products I search actually exist.  Wether it’s stores insisting on cheapest pricing or the supply chain not being able to produce the quantity they need, the ability to buy seasonal food from less than 5,000 kilometers away is a scarce opportunity these days; at least in retail.

Potatoes, carrots, onions, sprouts, beets and cabbage are all availblelocally through the right connections today.  It’s just very difficult to find them – something we will remember when bottling and dehydrating the summer and autumn bounties next year.

Any other sources of local out there in the late winter/ early spring?

Michael Duggan – 9 Beer (Inda Pale Ale and Craft Beer from Toronto)

It was a darling friend`s birthday last night.  There were about 40 people for dinner and then drinks on the Danforth (Lolita`s Lust – who were great hosts).

After completing dinner we migrated upstairs to an intimate private lounge.  I pulled up to the bar and noticed a beer I hadn`t tried before which is always an exciting view for me.  A new unopened beer is kind of like seeing all those gifts at Christmas when you were a kid.  You knew some would be the coolest things in the world and others would be socks but the prospect of what they could be made them all equally exciting.

To continue the analogy of Christmas gifts; 9 beer is one of the cool gifts and something worth getting excited for.

Michael Duggan   9 Beer (Inda Pale Ale and Craft Beer from Toronto)

I was pleasantly surprised to find my mouth explode with flavor as I took my first sip of beer.  It was super hoppy and a strong ale that we so often lack in Canada.  So many of our beers, including many of our Ontario Craft beer, seem to take the middle ground on taste.  like Goldilocks, they aren`t too bitter and aren`t too weak, they are their own version of what`s `just right.`  This isn`t necesarilly a bad thing – it`s just that there`s a lot in the middle.  U.S. craft beer has such a size (around 3,000 craft breweries) that their options are vast and it`s great to see our options expanding north of the border.

9 is an India Pale Ale.  For the uninitiated, this means it is very full of flavor and most consider it bitter.  Some consider it an acquired taste though converts would argue that they are not full of flavor – it`s that others are boring and weak.

I tried an experiment – I shared tastes of the beer with friends.  Some are craft beer junkies, many are not even beer fans.  I thought the results would be easy – that the `veterans` would like it and others would find 9 to be overpowering.  I was wrong.  Of the 8 or 9 friends who tried it, they all found it to be interesting or great.  I`m not convinced this is an ale for all people but I do find it a wonderful beer for my tastes.

A quick bit of research on Michael Duggan shed some light on this great beer that appeared to come from nowhere.  His fingerprints are all over Toronto`s beer history.  He was the original brewmaster at Mill Street Brewery and worked at Cèst What, Robert Simpson and ran operations at Cool Brewery in the west end of the city.

Mr. Duggan has taken the leap of faith into his own brand which includes the brewery and an attached restaurant and pub (on Victoria Street near Queen and Yonge in the heart of the city).  The location opened in late October last year and provides a testing ground for established product as well as new experiments.

Our list of places to visit in Toronto just grew by one!

Cowbell Toronto – A butchery walkthrough courtesy of Margaret Mulligan

I recently had the honour of being invited to a butchery demo in the basement of Cowbell (a very unique restaurant in Toronto).  Our friend Margaret Mulligan (the fabulous photographer) was shooting the session and, along with Head Chef, Mark Cutrara, I was offered to come along.  I always love the chance to explore something I haven’t seen or tried before – we only write about the experiences that we liked or loved.  This was one to love.  Today’s article is art 1 of 3 and is a serious comparison of a butcher, a chef and a vegetarian.  All of the photos are hers.   To see the entire series of posts, click here.

Before scrolling, please understand that this post may be too graphic for some.  It’s a photo essay that walks you through our butchery session that we experienced.  I like to think that this is what Kerouac meant by “Naked Lunch” when he gave the term to William S. Burroughs.

Margaret’s photography is stunning.  She has a passion for food and photography and the intersection of the two.  Her professional site is here and her personal photo blog here.

Note the small amount of waste captured towards the end of the photos.  The work of Ryan and Mark is inspirational to me and I highly recommend attending a session if you can.  Hope you’ve enjoyed the series!

Cowbell Toronto   A butchery walkthrough courtesy of Margaret Mulligan

Cowbell Toronto   A butchery walkthrough courtesy of Margaret Mulligan