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

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

Where we live in northwestern Ontario we don’t have access to a lot of local market gardens  or farms. But what we do have on our doorstep are lakes full of pickerel and jackfish, as well as some trout and perch. Mark took our youngest daughter out on their first fishing trip of 2011 yesterday afternoon and the result was a supper of fresh pickerel caught a few kilometers from our house.   Food doesn’t get much more local, or delicious, than that!


Carbon-busting Rhubarb Streusel Muffins

I decided the focus for my blog this week was going to be food, as these days in our household there is much talk about and action on getting our garden in, now that we are back from holidays. Mark is the gardener in our household, while I provide support services like bringing out glasses of ice tea and weeding sporadically. I do play a more active part in the harvesting, preparing, and eating department. However, since I’ve become more aware of the crucial role food plays in our unsustainable North American lifestyle, and particularly after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’ve promised Mark that I will change my non-gardening ways. He remains skeptical, but I’m optimistic. There’s so much room for improvement, how hard can it be?

Rhubarb is the harbinger of spring up here in the northern climes. It starts to peek up from the dirt while there’s still patches of snow lingering in our yard. Mark is a big rhubarb fan, and as a result we now have 5 large, healthy rhubarb plants around the yard.

The great thing about rhubarb, from a gardener’s point of view, is that it’s a perennial which needs a minimum of attention from one spring to the next. That’s the kind of plant I can appreciate.  And from an eater’s point of view, unless you are a rhubarb-hater (I know a few!) there’s little that compares to a fresh rhubarb crisp or a homemade rhubarb muffin. Nutritionally, rhubarb is a good source of Vitamin C, fiber, and calcium. As a child growing up on a prairie farm, rhubarb was the first harvest from my dad’s garden and we kids would eat the stalks raw, dipped in sugar.

I’m busy with a work project that has a looming deadline, so I don’t have a lot of time to devote to gardening right now, as the project is consuming most of my waking hours. However, I did find time a few days ago to pick some rhubarb and make muffins, which in turn provided sustenance to Mark as he planted our home garden, so I’m kind of helping with gardening.  My daughters were lobbying for our usual rhubarb muffins, but I tried out a new recipe and after tasting the result they gave it their stamp of approval.  I found the recipe on smittenkitchen.com . I like the recommendation to mix a portion of the streusel crumbs into the batter, which I’d never done before. I made a few adjustments to the original recipe, so here’s my version of Rhubarb Streusel Muffins:

  • Streusel Topping

1/4 cup (31 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (28 grams) spelt flour (if you don’t have spelt, use whole wheat)
1 tablespoon (13 grams) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (38 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams) butter, melted (I used light olive oil)

  • Muffin Batter

1 large egg
1/4 cup (50 grams) light or dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons (38 grams) granulated sugar
5 tablespoons (71 grams) butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm ( I used light olive oil)
3/4 cup (177 ml) sour cream (I used yogurt)
1 cup (approx. 120 grams) spelt or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (63 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced rhubarb, in 1/2-inch pieces (from about 6 to 8 ounces of stalks)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 16 muffin cups.

Make streusel: In a small dish, stir together flours, sugars, spices and salt. Stir in butter until crumbly. Set aside.

Make muffins: Whisk egg in the bottom of a large bowl with both sugars. Whisk in butter, then sour cream. In a separate bowl, mix together flours, baking powder and baking soda and stir them into the sour cream mixture, mixing until just combined and still a bit lumpy. Fold in rhubarb and 1/3 (feel free to eyeball this) of the streusel mixture.

Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle each muffin with remaining streusel, then use a spoon to gently press the crumbs into the batter so that they adhere. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean. Rest muffins in pan on cooling rack for two minutes, then remove muffins from tin to cool them completely.


More links:

Smittenkitchen.com: Rhubarb Streusel Muffins

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year Of Food Life

One Step to Changing the World – Eat Locally

Today is “Meatless Monday“, a campaign that encourages us all to reduce our carbon footprint and improve our health by eating less meat.  Today’s posting is a discussion about the “Eating Local” movement by my good friend, Vi Stoesz.  She and her husband Barry participated in a “100 Mile Diet for 100 days” experiment several years ago, and Vi was recently invited to share their experience with an interested group of women in Altona, Manitoba.  Vi was gracious enough to agree to my request to share her talk on this blog:

Thanks for inviting me to talk about my experience with the 100 Mile Diet.

In the spring of 2007, we had heard about the 100 Mile Diet and were inspired by the Vancouver couple who went on a local diet for one year, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. A couple from our church, Jennifer deGroot and Will Braun, had also been gardening in the city and been very committed to putting food up for the winter. Jennifer shared extensively about eating local with members of our church, Hope Mennonite.  She and Will also worked on a farm as part of their journey towards eating locally.

Via the grapevine, we heard of the 100 Mile Diet challenge for interested people in Winnipeg. The challenge was to eat food grown in a 100 mile radius for 100 days and they were hoping that 100 people would sign up to participate.  A website was formed, where people could register to be official participants.  The challenge lasted from September 1 –December 9, 2007.  The group that created the idea wanted the experience to be somewhat of a challenge so they started it in September rather than over the summer.  This gave us time to prepare, learn to put food up if we needed to, research local sources of food, and network with others.

In the early spring of 2007, I really thought about it and wondered if we could do it.  I love contests that have a competitive edge – especially if they include my husband.  My children were 18, 22, and 24 at the time so I didn’t really have anything more to say to them in terms of advice – they knew all the answers! However, I still wanted to be an inspiration to them just as my parents have been to me in terms of service and life challenges.   I also came to believe this experiment would be a direct act of faith, in keeping with God’s call to care for the environment.  By eating locally, our food travels less which reduces green house gas emissions, it tastes better, and – most of the time -there is less packaging. The foods eaten are whole foods, with less processing. I would have to do the processing.  My connection with the land that grows my food would be strengthened.  I liked that.   My demand for cheap exotic fruits like oranges, pineapple and bananas is also directly linked with the oppression of poor farmers who have to use their land to grow food for me instead of their families.  Were my choices in food affecting someone else’s livelihood and contributing to their poverty?  I needed to think about those connections, and  I wanted to connect my actions with my beliefs.  This would be a good opportunity to directly live out my faith and learn lots in the process.

I ran the idea past my husband Barry and he agreed to join me if he could still drink coffee and eat chocolate.  We had been drinking fair trade coffee for about a year – would we have to give that up too?  Would we really try to give up chocolate?  We talked to others who were joining about their thoughts on coffee, chocolate and salt. Where would we get salt?  It turns out the only source of salt we could find that was somewhat close was in Saskatchewan. Was this too far? It wasn’t 100 miles.  If we couldn’t get it locally, what will our food taste like without salt? What about spices?  Isn’t this something that the First Nations traded for furs?  We were getting scared and very hesitant about this whole thing.  We thought it was a bit crazy.  Why put ourselves through this?  Weren’t we already eating local chicken and going to farmer’s markets? We were concerned and spoke with others.  They reassured us that if we joined, there would not be daily visits from “100 Mile” police to check up on us, or dire consequences for diving into a chocolate bar in the middle of the night.  If some people wanted to join with a few exceptions, that would be acceptable, and they could still sign up.  The point of the experiment was to be as open and transparent as possible.  We were still scared but excited at the same time when we took the plunge and signed up.

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