Could mad cow disease have helped local food?

The following post is not intended to make light of the very serious problems we had with mad cow disease nor is it intended to disrespect people and families who have had tremendous negative impacts from it – including death of loved ones and losses of entire herds and family farms themselves.  It is intended to look at another impact that caught me by surprise on a recent trip to Scotland and is an attempt to find a potential silver lining in an otherwise very dark cloud.  To be perfectly clear, I am not suggesting that mad cow (something I do not understand nearly enough on to be any source of expert) is or was a good thing.

I was sitting in Glasgow with two colleagues for a late dinner and looking through a menu when I stumbled on the following declaration:

Could mad cow disease have helped local food? November

I was very excited to see this type of transparency declared on the menu.  We were not in an expensive restaurant (by Scottish standards).  Prices were equivalent to the local Thai, Pizza and Italian food we had  eaten through the week.

It also took me by surprise that the menu declared provenance for items that were not  on the menu.  It was explained to me that they declared the origins of all ingredients that enter their kitchen – by printing all of their sources on the menu this allowed for daily specials to also be covered by this statement.  Essentially this guaranteed diners that they knew where every dish they ate came from.

I was told that more and more establishments across the continent were adding these descriptions.  Many were sharing the specific farms and farmers that their food was coming from (here’s another example I found with a quick web search for one of the farms in the menu above).  I was fascinated – local farmers being recognized on the menus of places serving their food.

My heart went from light to heavy when it was explained to me that the root cause of this push for provenance stemmed, largely, from the mad cow disease issues that circled the UK (and the press) over the last number of years.  People simply wanted to know where their food was from and who they were trusting with it.

I now find the provenance eerie.  There is substantial support for eating local that’s come at a brutal price.

I have tried to write my closing statement for this post for 15 minutes and continue to stare blankly at the screen – I have more questions than answers.  Is this a good thing?  Would provenance help made food safer and animals healthier?  Does this promote local food?  Would it have made a difference in the first place?  Can we get there without the average person in society feeling an impending threat on their safety?  Is there something we can learn from this?

I don’t have these answers – would love to hear and share your thoughts in the comments…

Sous-vide… at home?

Sous-vide may be a term that is unfamiliar to some – it’s a relatively new style of cooking (developed in the 1970′s and popularized recently by Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, Joel Robuchon and other world-famous chefs) which cooks food at a snails pace under a vaccum.  “Sous-Vide” is French for “under vacuum.”

Chefs seal ingredients in a plastic with he intent of removing all air from the package.  This package is then placed in water which is typically heated to around 60°C or 140°F).  Food is left to cook at these temperatures for up to, and sometimes longer, than 24 hours.

Proponents of this method rave about it.  Their argument is poignant though largely scientific.  This low temperature keeps the integrity of the original product – fat does not render off, water content does not evaporate, cell structure remains in tact, texture of the original ingredients remain in tact and hte original appearance often remains in tact.  There is no liquid loss and cannot be overcooked – the two-minute video below shows how UC Davis uses slow-cooking in their cafeteria to reduce food waste and incrase overall quality of what they produce:

Sous-vide is possible at home though not common.  Chefs use expensive water-bath machines to maintain the integrity of temperature and acknowledge that even the smallest change of temperature can change the results – including the possibility of botulism (just like preserving in jars) as the food is in an air-tight environment.  I can’t imagine trying to keep a pot of water consistently at 60°C for 24 hours on my relic of a stove.

Along comes the SousVide Supreme – a new product that has yet to ship (it promises to start in the next few weeks).  It’s a home water bath that (for $400) will allow you to consistently create sous-vide at home (vacuum sealer not included).  It’s essentially a slow slow-cooker (that’s even slower than a normal slow cooker).  It offers the potential of gourmet-level meals with very little work.

Terra Madre Day

Terra Madre Day November

Terra Madre is a community that “brings together those players in the food chain who together support sustainable agriculture, fishing, and breeding with the goal of preserving taste and biodiversity.”  It’s an awful big mouthful and a lot to chew on.

Slow Food is organizing a global event on December 10 called Terra Madre day (it is also the 20th anniversary of the Slow Food movement).  To participate is simple – attend or host an event that recognizes and celebrates sustainable food.  They have defined “7 Pillars of food wisdom” to help understand their definition of this better:

  • Access to good, clean and fair food
  • Agricultural and biodiversity
  • small-scale food production
  • food sovereignty
  • Language, cultural, and traditional knowledge
  • Environmentally responsible food production
  • Fair and sustainable trade

There is an interactive map of global events here and a list of ideas for your own event (such as a communal dinner) here.  You can register your event through their site and, together, we can make a difference.

We haven’t made plans yet and are thinking of some ideas…  What are you up to?

Department Store Duck Fat and ideas on food labeling

Surely this post will turn some stomachs and it will excite others.  Let’s start by chewing the fat:

Department Store Duck Fat and ideas on food labeling November

I brought two small jars of this back from my recent trip to Scotland.

I adore going to grocery stores when I travel.  Prepared foods are always interesting as are any local specialties.  A trip to the pickle and jam aisles are a prerequisite and produce can reveal some wonderful discoveries.

I found the jar above at Marks & Spencer – a beloved mass retailer in the UK and some of North America.  It’s essentially a mini WallMart which occasionally has a major food section.  The store I visit in Glasgow features an entire supermarket worth of options (or lack thereof depending on your take on the great food debates!)

I was rather surprised by two things.  The first is that duck fat was a common ingredient (it was offered at 2 for 5 pounds; approx $10).  The second surprise was about the utility of the packaging – simple, pretty and functional.  I remember picking it up and thinking, `What would I do with a small jar of duck fat?`  Ask and ye shall receive – the package answered my silent query.

We recently posted an article on Buttercup Squash which was local and included instructions on cooking it simply (here).

What food (or ingredients) should have recipes or ideas plainly added to them?  I`m thinking clear ideas on the 17 different types of apples appearing in local super markets would be a start!  :)  Which ones are good for pie, which others for sauce and how about one just for eating?

something to put food in….

Hi guys!

I really wanted to pass this on to our community. I’ve been taking a pottery class over the past couple of months with Ken Gangbar…an incredibly talented artist and teacher. Just in time for the holidays (or just in time period), he’s throwing (pun intended) a sale at his studio….of bowls…beautiful, hand-made…did i say beautiful? BOWLS. Ken comes from a talented family, our local readers may have seen his sister Ruth’s food styling on the pages of Grapevine and Food & Drink. Ruth will be there selling delicious homemade soup with all proceeds going to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Here are the details:

something to put food in.... November

**I’ll do a post on what I made in Ken’s class once they’re finished and full of something yummy…sadly the ‘unintentional gravy boat’ already suffered an untimely demise…this stuff is harder than I thought, but also way more fun than I thought.

Kick up the jams: a challenge from Tigress

It’s hard to believe we’ve been at this for almost a year.  WellPreserved has taken us to unexpected places (physically and mentally), challenged us to try and do things we may not have and introduced us to many people we would not have otherwise met.  It’s been a lot of fun.

We have mentioned “Tigress’ (she’s in a pickle here and in a jam here) a few times in the past.  She has two swell blogs and tends to push preserving much beyond a simple strawberry jam.  Her blogs are a lot of fun and her results look awesome!

Tigress has offered a challenge to the preserving world – those with and without blogs.  12 batches of preserves in 12 months.  It’s a bit more complex than that – there will be a monthly seasonal ingredient, you can include other ingredients as long as the monthly spotlight is featured and so on.  All batches must be hot water bath preserving (i.e. high acid so pickles and almost any fruit).

Tigress is going to collect the posts and pics of our monthly efforts and share them through her blog.

Kick up the jams: a challenge from Tigress November

If you are new to preserving, this is a great place to start.  Hot water bathing is where almost all of us got our start (and continue to spend a lot of time).  A monthly theme can help keep your interest and you can learn from the experience of others.

For those not committing to 12 months there is still ample opportunity to learn, follow along and cheer!

What I adore about this challenge is that many of us will be using the same ingredient to create different things.  I am excited to see how many different things people do with individual ingredients and what I can learn from that.

For more info and to let her know you’ll be participating (it’s free), check out her site here.  If you do register, let us know.  It would be fun to have a few allies in this journey!

I dont knead you anymore – our first attempt at no-knead bread…

For the recipe and details on how to do this, click here – if you are uncertain what no knead bread is or why it rocks, keep reading this article before heading there .:)

We originally posted about No-Knead bread back in August.  Although the whole world seems to know about it, we were new to hearing of this apparent hit for the kitchen.  It was Twitter that turned us on to this and we were excited with many the recommendations to give it a try.

I dont knead you anymore   our first attempt at no knead bread... November Flour Cooking Recipes [Read more...]

Good bye Harlan…a sad day at the market.

I did not know Harlan Clark – our conversations were generally limited to the weeks price or availability of eggs.  I am not a giant breakfast eater so even these conversations were scattered (or scrambled as the case may be).

Good bye Harlan...a sad day at the market. November

I frequently saw him from a distance.  A lot.  Harlan Clark was an egg farmer who, along with his wife Norine worked their egg stand for more than 60 years.

The couple have been a fixture at the market and missed only one weekend at the market over the last 60 years (after Harlan had a heart attack).  Their dedication included getting up just after midnight to make it to the early morning Saturday market and tended to more than 1,500 chickens in their flock.

Dana`s earliest memories of Toronto are of buying eggs from the Clarks in her pajamas as she lived close to the market.  It’s going to be a different market and he will surely be missed by many who were close to him – and many strangers, like us, who were touched and inspired by their passion.

Good bye Harlan...a sad day at the market. November

The family has requested that any donations in his name be directed to the Port Perry Hospital Foundation or the Heart & Stroke Foundation.

We ran an earlier post on the Clarks (including a link to a great article from them) in February.  If you want to learn more about this amazing couple, click here.

Help save a non-profit Brooklyn based urban farm

The video below speaks more than I can possibly explain in words.

The executive summary: a non-profit group transforms an abandoned lot that was zoned for a different non-profit and grows crops for 7 years to feed the hungry, teach people how to cook healthy and get youth involved in farming in Brooklyn. Unfortunately the non-farming non-profit owes money to the city and the city wants to evict, sell the land and move the farm but aren`t offering solutions that will work.

It`s an amazing project that`s in danger of disappearing.

Watch the video below and check Sustainable Table for more info.

My most important travel souvenirs come from the grocery store

I have just returned from a week in Glasgow, Scotland.  The trip was for business and took me there for 8 days, including a weekend.  It`s my third time in lovely Scotland and had very little free time to explore.  It was a very good trip – one that focused on business.

My primary motivation in life is friends and family.  There is nothing that is more important to me (even though I show that in odd ways from time to time :)).  Sometimes this means work becomes a priority as it is something that helps me interact with friends and family and certainly opens many opportunities for experiences which can develop me further…for friends and family.

It is because of this that I found business travel to be deflating for some time.  I value the present a great deal and knowing that I was away from those who I hold dear was a tough deal to accept.  I would make the most of it and have a lot of fun but there was still a hollowness that I was missing out on times with people I held dear that I would never, ever get back.  The emotion was different than simply missing people – it was one of missing out.

I tried something new about 4 years ago and it`s made a massive difference on my perspective and added a lot of enjoyment to these trips (and my return) since.  It`s something I wholly recommend to those of you who travel on business – it can also be applied to traveling for pleasure.

In order to reconcile that I am missing out on time with friends and family in the present, I purchase something that I either couldn’t or wouldn’t at home to share with those who are dear with me later.  Essentially I am trading a present sacrifice for a future experience that could not have happened without the sacrifice itself.  This means that I will get to do something with people I hold dear and they get to experience something they may not have otherwise because I went on that trip.

The most common things I purchase are food and drink related.  I really like to try to acquire flavors that are local or unique.  Regional chocolate is easy to pick up at airports and things like coffee and tea can have interesting interpretations from all over the world.

Alcohol is a favourite.  It`s portable, often includes a wonderful design element, shares well and lasts a long time – if not, forever.

This trip has seen a bottle of Edradour Scotch added to my collection.  They pride themselves on being Scotland`s smallest distillery (they employ 3) and produce 1-3 casks of Scotch per week.  The bottle I purchased is a hand-numbered bottle from a single cask was aged from May 28, 1996 through August 18, 2009.  It wasn`t the cheapest bottle (around $100 Canadian) and I would never spend that type of money on a bottle at home – and that`s part of the point!

My most important travel souvenirs come from the grocery store November

When I can`t find something regional, I revert to Scotch.  We`ve built a collection of about 12 bottles over the years.  We have tasted them all and have yet to finish our first bottle – I`m not the world`s biggest Scotch drinker.  I remember the trips the different bottles came from and the memories I`ve had sharing them with those dear since then.

Anyone do something similar (or willing to try?)  Are there any other food related traditions some of you apply to business (or personal) travel?  Anyone have a taste of a region they want to share?