A Radical Monday Morning

Today is the first cool and rainy day in quite a while, so I’ll be spending the morning the way other “radicals” the world over are, in the kitchen and the garden reclaiming democracy and occupying the food supply. I’ll be  cooking up strawberry & rhubarb jam with organic local fruit,  and possibly making jelly out of our nanking cherries,which – for the first time – we have a prolific crop of this year. Here’s what the beauties look like (and remember, I live in northern Ontario, not a fruit belt by any stretch of the imagination):


ripe nanking cherries
Ripe Nanking Cherries



Last night I watched Thrive: The Movie. Thrive bills itself as:

an unconventional documentary that lifts the veil on what’s REALLY going on in our world by following the money upstream — uncovering the global consolidation of power in nearly every aspect of our lives. Weaving together breakthroughs in science, consciousness and activism, THRIVE offers real solutions, empowering us with unprecedented and bold strategies for reclaiming our lives and our future.

I confess to being a bit surprised that early in the movie it ventures into the territory of crop circles and UFOs. I found the discussion of the U.S, and global, monetary system informative as well as alarming. But when the movie ventured into climate change territory, and referred to a carbon tax as a tool of global repression it lost some credibility, as it did when it offered a vision of no taxation as part of an idyllic future. I don’t mind paying taxes to contribute to a healthy society (with healthcare, libraries, roads, public transportation, etc).  But I’m not sorry I watched it; I think it might inform and “wake up” some people to the need to participate in shaping a better future for all of humanity, not just the 1% who are thriving right now off of the misery of the majority.  If you’ve seen it, I’d be curious to hear what you have to say. Here’s the trailer:



More links:

Thrive: The Movie

Thrive The Movie Isn’t About Thriving At All

Nanking Cherry Jelly

Nanking Cherry Pancake Syrup

Witch’s Fingers And Night Of The Living Duck

Who says climate hawks don’t have any fun?

For years I have made “Witch’s Fingers” with my daughters and their friends for Halloween. Now both are university students living away from home, but each of them recently sent home pictures of how their dastardly digits, made without mom, turned out. It’s wonderful to see a family tradition emerging, no matter how silly! Here are the pictures and the recipe (although you can also use your favourite sugar cookie recipe, just shape as described below):

Witch’s Fingers

1 cup butter

1 cup icing sugar

1 egg

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 ¾ cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

Whole almonds

Red gel icing, or raspberry jam

Mix together wet ingredients. Mix together dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then beat into wet ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Working with one quarter of the dough at a time and keep remaining dough refrigerated, roll heaping teaspoonful of dough into finger shape for each cookie. Press almond firmly into 1 end for nail. Squeeze in centre to create knuckle shape; using paring knife, make slashes in several places to form knuckle.

Place on lightly greased baking sheets; bake in 325 degrees F over for 20 – 25 minutes or until pale golden. Let cool for 3 minutes. Lift up almonds, squeeze red decorator gel onto nail bed and press almond back in place, so gel oozes out from underneath.  Let cool on racks, repeat with remaining dough.

And for your Halloween viewing pleasure, here’s a 1988 WB Daffy Duck cartoon Night Of the Living Duck, directed by Terry Lennon and Greg Ford and released as a part of “Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters”:


Happy Halloween everyone!

More links:

The Real Class Warfare: Law Firm Representing Banks And Mortgage Services Mock Homeless At Halloween Party

What The Costumes Reveal.NY Times

A Bushel And A Peck of Tomatoes

We’re still enjoying the bounty of our summer garden in the form of plenty of fresh tomatoes. I’ve been looking for  creative ways to eat/cook with them – even tomato sandwiches, which I love, can become tiresome. I’m not a huge fan of tomato soup generally, but I found a recipe on the Food Network, tweaked it a bit, and really like it. I’ve made it twice in the last week, and am looking forward to having a bowl of leftovers for lunch today.

The secret is to brown the tomatoes before hand. This adds a lovely roasted flavour to the soup. To view the original recipe click here; here is my lower-fat version:

October Tomato Soup

3 lbs tomatoes, halved lengthwise (I used various sizes, from cherry, plum and regular tomatoes. I decreased the grilling time by half for the cherry tomatoes)

4 T olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

pinch of sugar

1 T butter & 2 T Olive oil

4 shallots, chopped

2 T tomato paste

4 cups chicken stock (I used  vegetarian bouillon cubes)

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 cup yogurt

1/2 cup milk

3 T basil leaves


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange tomatoes, flesh side up, on 2 wire racks set on sheet trays (I put parchment paper on the cookie sheets the second time, as it was difficult to clean up the first time). Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, making sure they are well covered. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar.

Roast tomatoes in the middle rack of the oven until tomatoes are brown and tender, about 1 hour (less for smaller tomatoes, as noted above).  Cool slightly.

Melt butter in 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil. Saute the shallots for 2 minutes, then mix in tomato paste for a few more minutes (I used some of my homemade tomato sauce rather than tomato paste). Add stock and cayenne.

Mix yogurt and milk in medium bowl, then add some of soup base and mix together. Add this mixture to the rest of the mixture in the pot, stir well. (It may appear slightly “curdled” because of the yogurt, but this will disappear when the tomatoes are blended in).  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the roasted tomatoes to the pan. Puree with an immersion blender (unfortunately mine broke the first time I tried to blend the soup, so I mixed it in a blender. This didn’t work as well with the doubled recipe I made last night, and some soup ended up sprayed around the kitchen out of the top of the blender – very messy!)

Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish generously with fresh basil (don’t miss this step, it really makes the soup special). I used fresh thai basil that we have growing in a pot in our kitchen – deeelicious!

An Apple A Day

One of the responses that we can all take to the looming peak oil/climate change crisis is to work to make our communities more resilient (for more on this, check out the Transition Town movement).  And one of the ways to build resilience is to increase reliance on locally-sourced food and decrease reliance on food that requires a huge expenditure of fossil fuels to get to your table. In our corner of northwestern Ontario, there are no farms within 150 kilometres, so getting locally-grown food usually means growing it yourself, or depending on a generous neighbour with a green thumb!  There are exceptions, though. I’ve already written about our abundance of wild blueberries and right now,  it is crab apple season and there’s an abundance of crab apple trees in our community.  I’ve been busy picking and preserving a large amount of  crab apples that friends have been kind enough to donate. I’m not a huge fan of jelly, so the few jars that friends give me will last us all year, but I have been remembering my Grandma Penner’s whole crab apples preserved in syrup, and wondering about duplicating her recipe. I don’t have her original one, so I looked through an old standby,  the Mennonite Treasury of Recipes, as well as searching on-line. By tweaking and combining a few recipes I found, I’ve come up with one that is an updated version of her classic that I like. Here it is:

Grandma’s Spicy Crabapples

8 cups crab apples

4 1/2 cups granulated sugar (I used fair trade organic)

3 cups water

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups white vinegar

3 – 4 cinnamon sticks

2 Tbsp cloves

2 – 3 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger

Sterilize jars by your favourite method (I put the jars and the lids into a 225 degree F oven for at least 10 minutes, and then leave them in there until I need them)

Combine sugar, water, and vinegar in a large stainless steel saucepan. Put cloves and ginger into a cheesecloth or tea ball – you can also put the cinnamon sticks into a tea ball but I just let them float during the cooking, and removed them at the end. Bring mixture to a boil and boil for at least 10 minutes, stirring to ensure sugar dissolves completely.

Wash crab apples, leave stems on. Prick with a fork (I used a corn-on-the-cob holder with a sharp metal point) to avoid bursting fruit. Add crab apples to boiling mixture and return to a boil, boiling until tender. The length you will need to boil them will vary depending on the size and ripeness of your apples. I found I just heated them back to boiling and then took them off the element and let them sit for 10 – 15 minutes. This decreased the number of apples that turned into mush. Don’t overcook!

Pack crab apples into a hot jar to within 2 cm of top rim. Add hot vinegar and sugar liquid to within 1 cm of top rim. Wipe jar, centre sterile lid on jar, apply screw band. Boil in canner, with jars covered with water, for 20 minutes. After cooling, ensure jars are sealed, store in your pantry. We used to eat them for a light Sunday supper of cheese, buns, and pickles. Or they would be a good accompaniment to pork or chicken.

Here’s the end result:

Spicy Crabapples, in memory of my Grandma Penner

And here’s what the crabapples looked like when I got started. There’s also a bowl of rosehips in the front, which I’m hoping to turn into jelly.

Aren't they pretty?

I also made some crabapple sauce, thanks to my friend Suzanne who let me borrow her food strainer (along with sharing her crab apples!)

Does Life Get Better Than Fresh Strawberry Pie?

It’s strawberry season in Canada, although here in our corner of the Canadian Shield there are no strawberry farms within 200 kilometres, and no organic ones within 500 kilometres. But, thanks to Mark’s lovely parents, who visited us from Manitoba, we had 16 pounds of fresh organic strawberries to enjoy this weekend. Many of the berries ended up in the freezer to be enjoyed in smoothies in the winter, but I did make 2 pies.

While all fresh local strawberries are delicious, I make a special effort to buy organic berries. Although they can be a little more expensive, they are worth it because, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Shoppers Guide to Pesticides, non-organic strawberries are #3 on the “Dirty Dozen” list, due to of the high amount of pesticide residue they may contain.

5 cups of fresh organic strawberries, ready to become pie!

Here are the recipes, and the photos, from my kitchen this week. I like this pie recipe because fresh berries are mixed in with cooked ones, giving it a truly fresh flavour:

Fresh Strawberry Pie (adapted from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook):

5 cups strawberries

3 – 4 T cornstarch

1/2 – 1 cup honey (depending on how sweet your berries are, and how sweet you like your pie)

2 T lemon juice

Baked pie crust*

Divide the strawberries into 2 bowls. Slice in half the berries in one bowl. Crush the berries in the 2nd bowl (which should be microwaveable) with a fork or potato masher.

Stir in the cornstarch, honey, and lemon juice into the crushed berries, mixing well. Place the bowl in the microwave on high for 2 minutes, take out and stir well, and repeat until the mixture looks clear or translucent and is thickened. Remove from the heat and cool. When cooled, stir in sliced strawberries and put the mixture into the baked crust and place in the fridge until firm. Serve with whipped cream.

crushing berries with a potato masher
mixing sliced and crushed strawberries together

In our house, opinion is divided on whether a graham wafer crust is the best one to use for this recipe, which is why I usually bake two, one with a graham wafer crust and then a second one with my favourite, Tannis’s Pie Crust. That way everybody is happy!

*Tannis’s Oatmeal Pie Crust:

Tannis's Oatmeal Pie Crust

3/4 cup flour

1/2 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup almonds or pecans, chopped finely

2 T brown sugar

1/2 cup melted butter

Mix dry ingredients together, then add butter. Press into the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate and bake at 400 degrees F for 12 – 15 minutes.

Pies are ready for eating!

More links:

EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides

Strawberry Fields Forever

To find a U-Pick farm near you, check out this website, www.pickyourown.org (and remember,choose organic whenever you can)

The Joys of Mushroom Hunting

It is becoming increasingly clear how important the links between food security, decreasing our carbon footprint, and eating local are. Although for decades industrial agriculture has been touted as the way to feed an increasing, and increasingly hungry, world population, it hasn’t lived up to that goal. Now a new study has found that small farms may be better for both food security and biodiversity. David Suzuki discussed the study, entitled “Food Security and Biodiversity: Can We Have Both?” recently:

Chappell and Lavalle point to research showing “that small farms using alternative agricultural techniques may be two to four times more energy efficient than large conventional farms.” Perhaps most interesting is that they also found studies demonstrating “that small farms almost always produce higher output levels per unit area than larger farms.” One of the studies they looked at concluded that “alternative methods could produce enough food on a global basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.” Go to David Suzuki.org to read the full article.

Here in northwestern Ontario eating locally is a challenge. Recently my daughter Kate and I had the opportunity to go out looking for Morel mushrooms with an experienced wild mushroom hunter. I’ve always been quite nervous about picking wild mushrooms, as the price one pays for eating the wrong kind can be rather steep! Sara, our guide, grew up in northwestern Ontario in a mushroom-picking family and studied fish and wildlife in college. She not only knew some great mushroom-picking sites, and was willing to share them, she also could identify all of the other plants that we came across during our foraging in the bush.  What Kate and I soon realized was that hunting for wild mushrooms is much harder work than picking wild blueberries, the only other kind of produce that we are used to harvesting from the wild.  Luckily for us, Sara is a true “mushroom whisperer” and was able to find them in places that Kate and I thought we had checked already. A few things that we learned from Sara are that in spring there are morels, and also wrinkled thimble caps, which are good to eat – although apparently if you overindulge in wrinkled thimble caps you might feel unwell (Sara assured us that her family has always eaten them without any side effects). There are also “false morels” which don’t look much like morels at all, that you definitely do not want to eat.

After 2 hours of hunting, we had filled the bottom of our bags with enough mushrooms to satisfy us, although there weren’t enough to feed a hungry family of four.  We followed Sara’s cooking instructions, and rolled the mushrooms in flour before frying them in butter. Delicious!

Here are some pictures of our adventure:

Sara points out an easy-to-miss Morel Mushroom

Wrinkled Thimblecap, which has a longer stalk and a top that is more loosely attached than the Morels
Our mushroom haul
Flouring the mushrooms before frying them in butter

If you are looking for a Meatless Monday recipe, you might want to try crepes with mushroom sauce, which is what we used the leftover morels in the next day:

This is the recipe adapted from the More-With-Less Cookbook our family uses for crepes, although there are lots of other similar ones available on-line:

Grandmother’s Russian Pancakes (Pflinzen)

Whirl in blender or mix with whisk:

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups flour

2 1/2 – 3 cups milk

1/2 tsp salt

Melt and keep hot: 1/3 fat or oil

Heat 10″ skillet until medium hot. Add approx. 1 tsp oil to skillet and spread with silicone brush so that surface is covered. Pour in about 1/4 cup batter, tilting skillet with your hand to allow batter to run over entire surface. Turn in a minute or two when the underside is browned.  Remove to serving plate and keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter, adding small amount of oil each time.

For a white sauce recipe, to which you can add mushrooms and cheese, click here.

More links:

The Great Morel

How Find Ontario Wild Mushrooms

Eating Local Is Delicious With Rhubarb Kuchen

Here in northern Ontario where I live, rhubarb is the first harvest from the garden that we  look forward to.  In anticipation of a meal of homemade pasta and grilled eggplant that’s planned for tonight (thanks to Michael who is willing to share his expertise in Italian cooking gained in the kitchens of his mother and grandmother) I picked some rhubarb from the garden for a very Canadian dessert.  Here’s the result, adapted from a Peach Kuchen recipe from the More With Less cookbook (fyi – I doubled it):

Red Lake Rhubarb Kuchen

Combine in bowl:

1 1/3 cup sifted flour (I used a combination of unbleached white and whole wheat flour)

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 T sugar

Then, cut in 1/3 butter (I used half butter and half light olive oil) and then pat mixture over bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan or skillet.


Arrange in pastry:

2 cups fresh diced rhubarb

Then sprinkle rhubarb with:

1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon (I used honey)

Bake 15 minutes.


1 egg, beaten

1 cup sour cream, sour milk, yogurt, or combination

Pour over rhubarb and bake 30 minutes longer.

Rhubarb Kuchen

Okay, now it’s confession time – as I was typing up this recipe, I realized that I had baked the crust without the rhubarb (I have no excuse, I guess I wasn’t as wide awake as I thought)!  Since I realized this, I’ve had a small taste of it, and the rhubarb is slightly under baked but still tasty.  I also decreased the amount of honey by a bit, so it is a little tart.  It will still be dessert for tonight, but with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side to balance the tartness.  And next time, the rhubarb definitely will be baked for the right length of time.