pretty in pink

My friend, Brad has a pink cell phone. He is an adult and, yes, he is heterosexual. He claims the phone was a gift from his older brother (also an adult heterosexual). He also claims that it is predominantly silver with pink as the accent, but he is fooling only himself..... it's really frickin' pink. Brad is one of those people who just shouldn't bother owning a cell at all. If it isn't locked up in his glove compartment for days on end and he actually happens to be carrying it on his person..... more than likely it will be switched off. Leaving a message would be futile, as he checks his voice mail so rarely that a message left today would probably not be retrieved until well after Easter, if ever.

I had invited him over for dinner last night, wanting to cook him a belated birthday meal. But what to make? Something pink, perhaps? After all, teasing those I care about is pretty much my reason for living, next to feeding them. Then I thought of it.....Brad's birthday menu would be Pink Risotto.

Pink Risotto (with Green Peas, Mushrooms & Kale)

The ‘pink’ part of this dish comes from using beet water as the cooking liquid (as opposed to regular water or stock). Beet water is simply what is left in the pot after boiling beets. I make a habit of saving this deeply coloured liquid and it always ends up coming in handy for something. Note that it also makes a nice (and colourful) vegetable stock. As for the quantity of liquid in this dish, it really is a ‘wait and see’ measure, as is the cooking time.

2 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, small dice
10 mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cups thinly sliced kale
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ¼ cups arborio rice
1 tsp salt

4 cups beet water (approximate)

1 ½ cups frozen green peas
zest of 1 lemon
juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp butter
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (+ extra for garnish)
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley (+ extra for garnish)

Place a large heavy pot over medium heat and wait 2 minutes. Add olive oil, and then the onions. Sweat the onions until they start to become translucent, for about 5 minutes. Next add the mushrooms, stirring occasionally until they are mostly cooked. Add the kale and then the garlic, continuing to cook for about 1 minute. Add the rice and stir constantly, allowing the rice to lightly toast, but not stick to the pot and burn. Add the salt and about 2 cups of the beet water. Bring to a simmer, cover and reduce the heat to low / medium. Stir the rice occasionally, topping up the liquid as needed. Continue doing so until the rice is almost cooked (al dente). Add the peas, zest and lemon juice. Cook a few more minutes, still topping up the liquid as needed (if you run out of beet water, just use regular water). Lastly, add the butter, parmesan cheese and parsley. Combine. Taste, adding more salt if needed. Serve into bowls and garnish with more parmesan and parsley. Serves 4.


white house kitchen gardens

While perusing Wednesday's New York Times, I happened upon this informative little gem from Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International.....a Maine-based nonprofit network of 10,000 gardeners from 100 countries who are inspiring and teaching more people to grow some of their own food. They are also the coordinators of Eat the View- a campaign to plant high-impact food gardens in high-profile places. They collected over 100,000 signatures on a petition asking the Obamas to lead the way by replanting a kitchen garden on the First Lawn. Michelle Obama recently announced that she would be planting a vegetable garden on the South Lawn. Digging began last Friday. This will be the first vegetable garden at the White House in over 60 years, since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden during World War II.

The film is by Eliot Morrison of yiggs.com.


tightwad tuesday- a pancake brunch

tight wad tuesday- jack's cornmeal pancakes

It's time for the second installment of 'tightwad tuesday'- a monthly posting created to feature meals that are tasty, healthy and budget conscious..... and also to provide a price per serving breakdown. And wouldn't you know it? I happened upon Rachel Ray last week while she sat as a guest on Larry King. She was all pumped up about a new feature being offering through her folksy food empire called Meals for a Steal. It's almost exactly the same format as the one I began back in February, only Ray's is promoted through her t.v. show, magazine, website and nation wide public appearances. Yeesh. Guess my idea wasn't as original as I thought. But I shall continue these installments, as I feel that there are many more interesting low cost recipe options besides Turkey Turnovers and Cheesy Hash Brown Chili. Did that sound too bitchy?

Today's meal is a weekend brunch, inspired by a Sunday morning date I'd set with my good pal, Gigi. We were way overdue for a catch up. Eating in a restaurant was likely to involve a lot of waiting and a busy, noisy environment. We were craving a 'free range' visit....one where we could impulsively hop on a laptop, look at books and muck about with craft supplies. So I suggested bringing brunch with me to her house.

It didn't take me long to pack up my little ingredients bucket, having already settled on a winter version of my dad's amazing cornmeal pancakes, which I like to embellish with yogurt, nuts, bananas, apples and homemade blackberry sauce plus chilled grapefruit slices served on the side (intended to provide a puckery contrast). The recipe below will serve 4 people. I used only half of the quantities to feed the 2 of us. The food cost for both servings came in at $4.10 (including 1 grapefruit), or $ 2.05 per person. (the blackberries were free, as they were still in my freezer from a self directed railway track-u-pick last summer).

Jack’s Cornmeal & Banana Pancakes with Berry Sauce

Berry Sauce:

2 cups berries, any kind
1/3 cup brown sugar

Put berries and sugar in a small pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, continuing to cook until some of the liquid has reduced (about 10 minutes).


1 cup flour
½ cup cornmeal
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking powder
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 banana, thinly sliced

3 tbsp melted butter
1 ¼ cup milk
1 egg


1 apple, cored and sliced
1/3 cup toasted coconut
1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 cup yogurt- any flavour

In large bowl, combine all dry ingredients, plus the sliced banana. Then add milk, then the egg, then the melted butter. Combine all. Heat up fry pan at low-medium. Add 1 tbsp oil. Put pancake batter into hot pan, in whatever shapes and sizes you like. Cook about 4 minutes. Flip. Cook until bottom is slightly golden brown. (about 2 minutes) Repeat until all batter is cooked. Place pancakes on dinner plates. Top each pancake with a good drizzle of blackberry sauce and then a generous dollop of yogurt. Next add the sliced apple and then a sprinkle of the cocnut and pumpkin seeds. Serves 4.


one pot wonder- super easy home baked bread

Shelagh Rogers’ Bread dough

Mix up the dough (no kneading required). Cover with saran wrap for 24 hours .

Shelagh Rogers’ Bread

One hour in the oven in a heavy, lidded pot and voila!

Shelagh Rogers’ Bread with melting butter

Lordy!.....Tastes and smells even better than it looks.

I’ve never understood why certain people guard their favourite recipes. Unless you are Heinz selling ketchup or Cadbury selling Caramilk Bars, who cares about keeping deliciousness in the vault? One would assume that those who love to cook food also love to feed people and are therefore generous by nature. One of my favourite aspects of food is its ability to be such an incredible connector. It has the power to bridge so many divides, be they cultural, economic, social, political or otherwise.

Philosophizing aside, most things simply taste better when they are shared. One of my favourite local bookstores is Duthie Books. I adore this store, not only for its impressive selection of reading material (including cookbooks!), but also for its eclectic, engaging and super fun staff. On more than one occasion I have dropped by with little treats, as a gesture of appreciation to some of the many people I feel are an enjoyable part of my community. During a recent visit, the store's owner enthusiastically gifted me with this bread recipe. As Cathy Duthie relayed specific details of the ingredients and method, it became evident that she considers this baked item a favourite, one that she makes almost daily. She had been given the recipe by her sister who had, in turn, received it from CBC’s ‘Sounds Like Canada’ host, Shelagh Rogers. With most recipe sharing, each recipient contributes their own special addition and/or modification. I opted to lightly oil the pot, as I found that my first attempt stuck to the bottom when I removed it from the oven and I also drastically reduced the salt quantity from 1 tbsp to 1 tsp. As for 'flavour makers’, I added 1 whole caramelized onion (finely sliced) plus 1 heaping tbsp of roughly chopped rosemary. The end result was warm and savoury, moist and chewy..... truly an excellent loaf of bread. Like any home baked loaf, it is at its best when served fresh from the oven, though it also toasts well.

Shelagh Rogers’ Bread

2 cups whole wheat bread flour
1 cup all purpose white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry yeast

*optional: additional flavour makers, such as caramelized onions, grated cheese, grains, granola, canned lentils, bran, currants, blueberries, herbs etc.

between 1 + 1/4 to 1 + 1/2 cups cold water

In a glass bowl combine all dry ingredients. Mix in any desired ‘flavour makers’. Mix in water. Cover mixture with saran wrap and allow to sit on counter for 24 hours. Next put a large cast iron or Le Creuset pot into a preheated 450* oven for 10 minutes. With a paper towel, lightly oil the bottom and sides of the pot, being very careful not to burn yourself! Gently scrape dough out of the bowl and into the hot pot. Cover with snug fitting lid and cook for 10 minutes at 450* and then turn temperature down to 400* and continue to bake for another 45 minutes. Remove bread from pot and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool slightly (about 15 minutes minimum).

seedy saturday at terra nova

drying beans @ Terra Nova

Beans drying at the Terra Nova Seed Swap.

Fruit tree saplings

Fruit tree saplings available for sale.

With all that snow we woke up to today, it's hard to believe that only 2 days ago I was enjoying a sunny morning out at Terra Nova's 'Seedy Saturday' (Richmond, B.C.). Though the temperature was definitely a bit nipply, as my friend, Tony, and I walked the gardens the buds were out, the birds were chirping and the arrival of spring actually seemed tangible. We were there to check out the garden's first annual seed swap in hopes of finding some interesting seeds and also to possibly glean some valuable horticultural knowledge.

The area just outside the activity building offered an abundant selection of fruit tree saplings, all available for sale. The indoor space served as the 'seed swap' area. Visitors could bring seeds of their own for others to take, as well as help themselves to the same. I was very excited to acquire some dried beans, whose variety was handwritten as 'unknown' (Jack and the Bean Stalk, perhaps?). I also helped myself to some 'shelling peas', which claim to grow to between 6 and 8 feet tall. More tables were set up to sell additional seeds, provide gardeners with information and even to sell homemade mason bee houses- structures created to hang in one's garden which will encourage bee population and, in turn, pollination. (For optimal success, they should be mounted facing south, out of direct rain, at least 4 feet above the ground and preferably under an eave). The Orchard Mason Bee is apparently considered a super pollinator, as it is 75% more efficient than a honeybee.

As our world economy continues to tank, it is exciting to see such events enjoy increased public interest and support, as more people pursue the pleasures and benefits of growing their own food. The helplessness that one feels while viewing their dwindling financial portfolio can surely be offset by accumulating an entirely different kind of wealth.....one that promotes sustainability, health and a connection to nature?


chicken update

One of Maarten's chickens struts its stuff in Lutjebroek, Holland.

Exciting stuff! As of March 5, 2009 it is now legal for Vancouverites to keep hens in their backyards. The next step will be to develop policy guidelines “that both protect the health and welfare of citizens, and ensure the humane treatment of backyard hens.”

My friend Maarten, who lives in Lutjebroek (about one half hour outside of Amsterdam), loves his chickens. At present his backyard is home to 7 chickens plus 1 cock and the breeds include Barnevelder, Kriel and Wyandotte. I met his motley crew of feathered friends back in 2006 (see above) and have to admit that they were complete characters and the breakfast ingredients they provided were top notch. During a stay at our house last summer, Maarten was trying to convince me that getting some backyard hens of our own would be a great idea. At the time I dismissed his suggestion as completely odd and impractical, but now I’m actually starting to consider it….. Apparently one good egg laying chicken can produce 270 eggs per year (about 2 eggs every 3 days). That means that 3-4 chickens could easily keep a family of 4 in quiche, crepes and scrambles. Plus hens eat your compost scraps and are sure to provide a certain level of entertainment. Certainly food for thought.

As an aside, one of my favourite movies of all time is Annie Hall. In the closing scene, Woody Allen reflects on his ended romance with the joke…..This guy goes to a physiatrist and says “Doc, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.” The doctor says “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” And the guy says “I would, but I need the eggs.”


vote for chickens!

Charles Eccles' chickens

Click here to learn more about Charles Eccles' chickens (in Cambridge, Massachusetts).

Crap-a-doodle-doo! Wish I got this email sooner.....was literally rushing out the door when I received it. And, in my humble opinion, it is tres important.....Vancouver City Council is voting tomorrow on amending the animal control bylaw (By-law no. 9433, Section 7.5) to allow people to raise chickens in their backyards. If you support this measure please send a note saying so to mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca. The information that follows is from the UBC Farm Blog and relays a fact sheet produced by the Food Policy Council.

"What are we proposing? That Vancouver City Council approve the amendment of
By-law no. 9433 (the “By-law”), which prohibits the keeping of various kinds of livestock within city limits, to allow residents to raise poultry. We would recommend thinking a little bit beyond just chickens and allow the keeping of poultry (or “fowl”) as some urban residents might find other species (like quail) more interesting or appropriate to raise. (This has been successfully done in Seattle.)

Why? Because a number of Vancouver residents would like to keep poultry for eggs, and the City, its residents and the birds themselves stand to benefit.

What are the benefits? The Mayor and Council have a stated goal of making Vancouver “the greenest city in the world”. Local, sustainable food sources are a key part of that goal – and nothing is more sustainable and local than allowing families to grow their own food (including eggs), a lower carbon footprint (no transportation), increased food security for the City and its residents, reduced pesticides and antibiotics in our food chain.

Benefits to Residents: An inexpensive, wholesome, quality, healthy alternative to
commercially produced eggs in which an array of chemical agents are used in feedstuffs, a satisfying hobby, a natural pest control and a ready source of fertilizer for gardens, a connection to where food comes from (versus a Styrofoam container in a supermarket cooler), a great educational opportunity for city kids who can be exposed to a whole range of outstanding learning experiences, including the often-lost idea of where food comes from, eggs to share with neighbours!

Benefits to the birds: FAR more humane treatment, including a better environment and life
than in commercial laying operations, access to space (commercial laying hens have a space the size of a piece of paper to live out their lives), access to the outdoors and fresh air (which a tiny percentage of commercial birds have access to), a diet/environment free of antibiotics/pesticides (evidently all of the organic poultry feed in Washington state is imported from B.C.), less chance of disease outbreaks.

Would Vancouver be alone in this? Do any other cities allow this? Many cities in the U.K. allow poultry keeping – it’s a widespread practice with a conservative estimate of half a million households keeping birds. In the U.S., a number of major cities including New York NY, Seattle Washington, Portland Oregon, Arlington, Virginia and Madison, Wisconsin (all have active backyard poultry promotions. Here in B.C., Victoria, Surrey, Richmond, New Westminster and Burnaby all allow the practice.

What about the noise? Chickens generally have a low clucking sound, described by many as soothing. However they do have a louder cluck after laying their eggs, which usually happens between 9 AM and noon. Hens have up to a couple of dozen separate calls, of which this is the loudest. However, the noise from hens is generally below that of dogs and other pets, and any possible noise infractions would be covered underexisting city by-laws.

Couldn’t this result in animal cruelty? No more than with any current pets (dogs, cats, fish). Allowing backyard poultry will actually REDUCE cruelty, as fewer eggs will be obtained from inhumane commercial egg operations. This is a far more humane option.

What about avian flu? All outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in western countries have been in commercial flocks of highly inbred strains of poultry with relatively weak immune systems. All birds are susceptible to the avian influenza virus, but in small flocks there is an extremely small opportunity for the virus to mutate into a pathogenic form (pathogenicity refers to the ability of the virus to produce disease). Backyard flocks have much stronger natural immune systems which tend to fight off any infections naturally.

In Summary: A by-law change would allow residents to practice a fun and beneficial hobby that’s a source of local, healthful food, with real benefits to the City, the birds, and the environment. Allowing residents to keep poultry would not present a significant break from what is currently permitted within the City of Vancouver nor would it introduce any new infrastructure or support requirements (like avian veterinary care) because they already exist for those who are keeping the registered homing pigeons, canaries, budgerigars, parrots, parakeets and exotic birds of all species allowed pursuant to By-law no. 9433, Section 7.5."