Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: It’s over

October 17, 2008

This picture shows one of my rescued, window sill-ripened Brandywine tomatoes perched on a rescued Cherokee Purple tomato that itself is perched upon a can of organic Ontario tomatoes. This pic was taken a couple of weeks ago but I saved it for today.

At this point, most of my readers (at least the ones in Canada) will have very little produce to harvest from their gardens. A cabbage remains here and there; a few carrots or beets, tops blackened by frost might still be salvageable; and, maybe a few of you in the warmer parts of Ontario like Pelee Island or in BC on Vancouver Island have some Brussels sprouts waiting for a good frost.

For the rest of us, it’s back to the produce section where many of the options are trucked in from warmer climes. While I will buy lettuce and other produce from around the globe during the colder months, I was heartened to see this can of tomatoes at Planet Organic. It’s nice to know that even if the growing season is over, that good quality local produce solutions can still be found if you look for them.

Will you try to buy products like these tomatoes now that the colder weather has arrived? Or will you put your locavore practices aside until spring?

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Molecular gastronomy versus home cooking

October 15, 2008

As regular readers here will have realized, I’m a pretty basic cook. I might be trained as a chef and be able to chop veggies faster and more neatly than many of my readers, but my maxim is that if you can read, you can cook. My goal as a recipe writer and home cook is to make food that’s easily identifiable, satisfying and delicious.

Ingredients, emotions and cravings drive my cooking. (In fact, if I’m stressed out or feeling down, look in the kitchen. Chances are there will be something yummy bubbling in a pot that I’ve prepared to escape what’s on my mind.) I think this personal connection between emotion and cooking is why molecular gastronomy confuses me.

Being a food trend expert, molecular gastronomy confounds me on another level, too. Just like the post I wrote yesterday about how salted caramel’s popularity flies in the face of health news and consumer demand for low sodium, low fat recipes, molecular gastronomy, with its chemical and scientific interventions appeals to the opposite group of people who are popularizing the locavore movement. Instead of highlighting the goodness and simplicity of a perfect, in-season squash, Ferran Adria and Grant Achatz seem to strive to make ingredients do new, unrecognizable things. I get the impulse but am surprised by its popularity.

I spent an hour or so Saturday afternoon leafing through the new books by these two scientist chefs and, although I found it fascinating reading, I wasn’t driven crazy with cravings while I turned pages. I just couldn’t relate to most of their food on an emotional level.

It could be that having not been to either El Bulli or Alinea that my eye isn’t trained to anticipate the great taste that will be delivered by a mound of foam that resembles dish sink suds. I can’t say.

Please don’t misunderstand. On a technical level, I’m in awe of what these chefs do and would love to try their wares. I just can’t see myself longing to go to one of their restaurants when I’m tired and hungry or wishing mid-afternoon that I had “granola in a rosewater envelope” (suspended from a metal trapeze when photographed for page 369 of the Alinea cookbook!). I imagine eating at these restaurants to be more like going to an amusement park: fun once every year or two but not something that I’d enjoy doing every week.

Needless to say, I can never see this kind of cooking spilling into the weeknight home kitchen. I may have to eat these words but it won’t be until moms start trading stories about how little Johnny will only eat asparagus if she prepares it bubbled (see recipe page 100 in Alinea).

Have you eaten at one of these famous eateries? Feel like setting me straight? If so, I’d love to hear your perspective.


Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: It just goes on and on

October 10, 2008

I know that some of you are wondering: ” what could she be doing in her garden now that it’s autumn in Ontario?” The truth is, not much. It’s time to rototill and put this baby to bed for the winter to be honest (fortunately, there’s a long weekend ahead – I’ll have to see if I can borrow John’s rototiller for Saturday!).

Despite the fact that I’m not actively gardening right now myself, the fall produce and the bounty of Canadian harvest season is glorious! Two weeks ago on a PA Day I took my son Oliver and his BFF Paul apple picking at Pine Orchard Farms. It was a gorgeous sunny day, about 20 degrees and the place was absolutely packed with moms and kids. Since then, I’ve been to the Farmers’ Market a few times and likewise, encountered crowds of people eager to get their hands on local produce.

It’s wonderful to see local farmers getting this support. The good news is that my experience here in Toronto isn’t an isolated trend. In fact, the venerable Oxford Dictionary chose ‘Locavore’ as the 2007 word of the year based on its frequency of use last year.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit a Farmers’ Market or to plant a little veggie garden of your own, it’s not too late to get in on the movement. In fact, you can use some of the extra time afforded by Thanksgiving weekend to get out and buy some local carrots, potatoes, onions and pumpkins like the ones pictured above.

Not sure where to go? In Ontario check out the wonderful Farmer’s Market finder created by Greenbelt Fresh. For locations in other provinces, visit the Canadian Farmers’ Market site. It allows you to search by region and by product so if all you want to buy is eggs or cheese, they’ll help you find it!

Need Thanksgiving Dinner Help?
Check out these turkey preparation tips I published on my Dana’s Top Ten Table site last year.


Dieting declines…really?

October 7, 2008

I was a little dismayed to discover that, while I’ve come to accept that I have to live on a diet to ensure I don’t become a fatty four eyes, that the rest of the continent is ditching the whole dieting concept.

Regular readers here will know that I’m always gaining or losing 5 pounds. I’d like to call it an occupational hazard but weight gain wasn’t a problem for me 10 years ago and I had the same job then. No, I fear age is the culprit in my case. The old bod doesn’t burn off the bacon as fast as it used to.

I’m at the fringe of the aging curve. In fact, I was born about three years too late to even qualify as a baby boomer. The reason this info is important is that it makes the decreased dieting numbers even more puzzling. If I’m fat because I’m old, then why aren’t the older baby boomers in the same boat?

Here’s what the latest facts and figures reveal about how a group of 997 people who were surveyed by NPD feel about reshaping their own figures:

1990: 39 % of women and 29% of men surveyed were on a diet.
2008: only 26% of women and 16 % of men gave the same response.

This trend is confirmed by the Calorie Control Council (a group of diet companies, I believe) who report that in 2004, 33% of people were dieting while in 2008 the figure fell to 29 %.

Slow Food advocates like Alice Waters believe the change reflects more public interest in cooking and eating wholesome foods. I’m not sure if she’s correct (I’d love to see more people cooking and eating well so I hope she’s right), but the US Department of Agriculture does have research that shows that the more time people spend on food shopping, cooking and kitchen clean up, the more likely they are to be of average weight.

Do you find that you and your family diet more or less than in the past? And, if you are dieting less is it because you’ve given up your goal to be thin in dismay or because you’ve discovered the pleasure of scratch cooking and don’t need to diet anymore?


Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: Meet the new pears!

October 3, 2008

Meet three newly developed Ontario pear varieties. For the next few years they will be sold in small quantities at farmers’ markets so do look for them there. Once production increases, widespread grocery store distribution will be possible but that won’t be until 2014 or so. It sounds like a long time but not nearly as long as it took for them to be chosen as viable commercial crops.

Through natural breeding techniques, these three new pear varieties were developed to be not only resistant to fire blight and other diseases but also winter hardy so that they can flourish in the harsh Canadian climate. According to Ken Slingerland, a pear specialist who works to develop new pear varieties, it took more than 10,000 attempts over 30 years to come up with these 3 commercially viable pears.

At a media event held last week in Toronto, Ken told me that over the next two years 50,000 new trees will be planted by Ontario pear farmers so that we can eat locally grown pears well into December.

I took home one of each of these new varieties so that I can have a taste of the future. So far I’ve tried the Harrow Crisp (the little one in the centre of the picture above) and it is very sweet and delicious. The other two new varieties are Harovin Sundown (left) and the not yet marketer named HW620 (at right).  I’m still waiting for these two pears to ripen but if my Harrow Crisp experience is any indicator, I think they will be delicious, too!

How can you get your hands on these new pears?  You can haunt farmers’ markets in the Niagara region or, next spring, look for tree stock at garden centres and plant a couple of these trees in your backyard (note: when planting pears you always need at least two trees so that they can cross pollinate).  If that sounds like too much effort, then look for Ontario Bartletts, Anjou and Bosc pears in the grocery store. They are still a fabulous local choice and this year, instead of sending much of the fresh crop to be canned, growers have made a deal with grocery stores to deliver these fresh, local pears throughout November.

What’s your favourite way to enjoy pears?  I love them eaten out of hand or baked in a pear upside down gingerbread cake. Yum!


Cooped up

September 3, 2008

Photo credit: http://www.omlet.co.uk

Readers of my regular Friday posts about gardening will know that I am an enthusiastic locavore; however, this Eglu, a UK innovation, definitely takes the concept further than I want to go.

No, I’ll let Burnbrae Farms raise the hens that lay the eggs I use to make morning omelets. It’s bad enough when the raccoons get into the garbage and the garden (more on this topic on Friday), the last thing I need is the neighbourhood fox tearing apart my chickens.

What about you, does the idea of raising chickens in an urban backyard inspire you or make you roll your eyes?

If you love this idea, you may want to sign this petition promoted by Gail Gordon Oliver at Edible Toronto.


Dana’s big gardening adventure: week three

April 11, 2008

Seedlings week two

Since last week my seeds have germinated but there really isn’t anything exciting to see yet in my seed starter kits. I’m sorry I can’t share a more interesting picture with you (turns out being a better Earthling isn’t visually stimulating at the early stages). What I can share is advice for planning your summer 2008 garden; so, this week we’ll discuss planning and choosing your plot (I’m referring to gardens, not burials BTW).

Although there are still many weeks before people in my corner of Canada will be doing any outdoor gardening, now is the time to plan your garden if you will be starting a new one. I’m lucky that the yard behind the test kitchen has a well-planned garden plot created by the previous owners. Once spring actually arrives, I’ll be able to get to the business of planting and growing my seedlings with very little effort.

For those of you who aren’t as lucky, here are some tips for choosing a good site for a garden plot:

• You’ll need a patch of land that receives 8 to 10 hours of sun per day.
• Look for a level site (if that isn’t an option in your yard, then you may have to build a retaining wall and build up one end to make a level growing space.)
• If possible, dig your garden near a water source. My own garden is far from the house so I’m going to set up a rain barrel to use for quick watering. For deeper soaks, I’ll be lugging around a muddy hose.
• Make sure the soil is safe and has a good base of nutrients. You can do that by purchasing a soil test kit at a garden centre.
• Although by August you may be worrying about drought and sick of rolling and unrolling the hose, if you haven’t chosen a well-drained area for the garden earlier in the year you’ll have problems with ground water, which can lead to root rot, fungus development and other nasty stuff.
• If drainage is a problem, consider raising the beds by surrounding the garden with a wall or a few stacked railway ties. Add a good layer of screenings, sand and top up with a deep layer of topsoil and you’ll assure good drainage.
• Don’t let your ambition outstrip your needs. Start small and, if you find you love vegetable gardening this year, then add extra rows next year. A 10-foot square plot is a large starter garden while a 20 x 40-foot garden will provide enough produce for most families to eat all summer with extra bounty to share with neighbours or the food bank.

Next Friday: Deciding what to grow
Friday after next: Site preparation tips