Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Morning in the Garden with Vegetable Patch's Jesse Payne

The other day I spent the morning in an organic vegetable garden with Jesse Payne of Vegetable Patch. An organic garden, you say? This must have been in the countryside or on a farm! Actually it was in the backyard of a typical suburban home in the West end of Ottawa! With his business, Vegetable Patch, Jesse has worked with local homeowners to take advantage of the unused greenspace in their backyards and create organic vegetable gardens. In return, Jesse provides them with vegetables, and also sells his veggies by the basket to the public. So far he has five large gardens with a total garden space of about a third of an acre in use.

When I met Jesse, he resembled any guy I might have met in an indie bar in Toronto with his plaid shirt, distressed jeans and beard, but I quickly realized that he isn't a hipster trying to be trendy -- this guy is the real deal. He actually IS a farmer. A super laid back guy, easy to talk to and clearly passionate about what he is doing, Jesse enjoys the entire process from cultivating the land, to tending and harvesting, and delivering baskets to happy home cooks.

Not since my job at a camp 2 summers ago did I greet the day when the dew was still fresh on the grass, but the bugs didn't have any trouble tracking me down. Bugs and all I was keen to get some dirt under my nails and find out more about Jesse and what he was doing. This guy is greening up Ottawa's landscape one vegetable patch at a time, and he's loving every minute of it.

Even though I was adding to my carbon footprint by driving into the city and defensively deking my way through rush hour traffic, all thoughts of negativity vanished when I witnessed that gorgeous golden sunrise surrounded by a soft pink sky. I thought to myself, "I should get up this early all the time!" I pulled up to the house and was greeted by some lively dogs barking hello. In this particular garden there were many veggies growing: peas, beans, buttercup squash, radishes, tomatoes, celery, red cabbage, carrots, mint, watermelons,butternut squash, acorn squash, zucchini, Hungarian yellow peppers, eggplant and Oka orange melons!

The beans were ready so we got down to business. I worked every muscle in my body picking those beans -- forget about your personal trainer or fancy pilates studio -- get your butt into a garden for a morning!

While we weeded gardens and continued working, Jesse told me his story. Turns out he traded his pinky ring for a green thumb. Originally from Carleton Place, Ontario, he grew up growing things in the garden with his family and ended up going to school for engineering. After working in the engineering biz for a while, he decided to go back to his roots, literally, and get back in the garden. Thus, Vegetable Patch was born. Customers in the Ottawa area can sign up and receive weekly or bi-weekly baskets of fresh, local produce within the growing season from July to October.

In the future, Jesse hopes to take Vegetable Patch in an educational direction, allowing youth to work as urban farmer interns for the summer, learning how to grow food and manage a large garden: "I want Vegetable Patch to become a model of inspiration for urban agriculture in all canadian cities." Jesse is still in the discovery phase but he certainly has a passion for gardening and the local food it produces.

When I asked him his views on the Local Food Movement in general he had this to say:
"Food security is an extremely important issue that we are just beginning to address. The local food movement is a reaction to questions brought up when addressing food security. For example: why is it uncommon for my food to come from local producers? I believe that sourcing more local food and developing good urban agricultural practices to be vital to any attempt at establishing a sustainable and secure food future for all North American cities."

Well, I don't know about you but I'm inspired already. I look forward to seeing Vegetable Patch grow and prosper in the future. As I left Jesse in the garden that morning I felt optimistic that more urban gardeners might crop up because of projects like Vegetable Patch. Jesse is also optimistic about Ottawa's commitment to local food: "There is definitely a movement of its own going on in the city."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

No Losers, Only Cooperative Farmers!

I was rummaging around in my parents' basement the other day and I came across a fantastic game that my sisters and I used to play when we were young called Harvest Time. This game was made by a guy named Jim Deacove from Perth, Ontario! I looked them up and it seems that their family business, Family Pastimes is still going strong, continuing to make cooperative games of all sorts.

The object of the game is to harvest all of your vegetables before the frost. You roll the dice and harvest whichever vegetable corresponds with the colour that shows up. If you roll the dice and it's white, you have to put the white pieces over the fall scene in the middle to show that winter is coming. You have to race against the winter to work together and harvest all of your vegetables. If your garden is fully harvested, you can use your turns to help fellow farmers harvest their crops.

This is such a fun game and it teaches cooperation and an appreciation for farming at the same time! Also I love the retro packaging compared to the games of today, gotta love those nostalgic finds in the basement of my youth!
You can still buy this game, it has fancy new packaging but it's still a fan favourite.The next step would be to take the kids out to a farm to pick veggies, and come home and make something delicious! In this age of pre-packaged snacks and frozen entrees, it would be good to teach the kiddies where the food actually comes from....

Happy Harvesting!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ottawa Farmers' Market

On the weekend I hit up the Ottawa Farmers' Market at Sylvia Holden Park, an alternate location due to the Ex being held at Lansdowne Park. Apparently because of the temporary location, not all vendors were there, but having never been to the market at Lansdowne before, I was quite charmed by the ambiance at Sylvia Holden Park.

It was like a little Farmers' Market Village! Families strolling along checking out the stalls, kids on swings, dogs following their noses from vendor to vendor and beautiful grassy areas with picnic tables set up for breakfast and lunch. The vendors were very friendly and there was an abundance of choice from Niagara fruit to sweet corn to artichokes to apples, and everything in between.

I had heard through the grapevine that this market was not to be missed and that I would be wowed by the variety and the quality. It was a good experience and I did pick up some tasty fruit and veg, but perhaps the fact that all vendors were not there did impact my overall impression. Not to say that I was dissatisfied with anything, perhaps it was all the hype that made me expect more than I should have. However, there were some unique things there that I hadn't seen yet at a farmers' market in Ottawa such as: elk steaks, wild mushrooms, zucchini flowers, Niagara peaches and even ice cream and iced tea vendors!

Overall it was a wonderful market and it had a laid back, natural vibe due to being in the park. I will definitely be back when it's back at Lansdowne to check it out in full effect. On a delicious note, the peaches were red haven peaches from Niagara, and they were absolutely perfect -- the "peachiest" peaches I have ever tasted! Trust me -- buy some peaches from the grocery store, then buy some from a farmers' market and you won't believe the difference!
Happy eating!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Local Food Feature: Acorn Creek Garden Farm

Hello fellow foodies! Still on my quest to find out more about local food in the Ottawa area, I visited Acorn Creek Garden Farm and had a look-see. The farm is run by husband-wife team Andy and Cindy Terauds and is located in Carp, Ontario, just West of Ottawa. Andy was kind enough to take time out of his day to give me the rundown.

Acorn Creek's number one criteria for growing is taste. "If it doesn't taste good, we don't want to harvest it" said Andy as he was showing me around while getting ready for the Ottawa Farmers' Market the next day.

Turns out they grow 60 different crops, and 750-850 different varieties within those crops! Maybe it's just me, but who knew there were that many varieties!?!
Andy says their focus on variation is to please customers and provide them with the best taste experiences. Another reason for so much variety is the diversity in the Ottawa area -- different ethnic groups can get vegetables that are essential to continuing their culinary lifestyle and keeping their heritage alive.

Many Ottawans might not realize the amazing local produce that's just around the bend, but if they do visit Acorn Creek they will get to experience it for themselves. Perhaps it was because I was a Torontonian for 12 years, but I was amazed at the vastness of the farm and a peaceful feeling set in as I strolled through the gardens on that sunny day.

My trusty Birkenstocks took me along the path where I witnessed row upon row of fabulous local food! Strawberries, melons (of which they grow 129 different varieties), squash (110 varieties), corn, tomatoes, hot peppers, onions, kale, artichokes, the list was endless! Also, for those of you who like your food with a bit of heat, they also grow the hottest pepper in the world: the Bhut Jolokia or the "ghost chile". I hope you have some milk and bread at the ready if you're going to try this one! It measures 1 million SHUs!(Scoville heat units).

These beautiful artichokes are among many things in demand by some of Ottawa's best restaurants including Juniper and 18 to name a few.

Overall, it was a humbling experience going "back to nature" if you will, and I recommend it to anyone. Visit a local farm in your area and see what you can uncover!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What is your favourite French wine region?

Being asked to choose your favourite wine region in France is kind of like asking a parent which child is their favourite – they are all so loveable in their own way, with unique characteristics and temperaments! However, if forced to choose, my pick is a region that exhibits a few of my favourite things, when speaking about wine, or just life in general: hot weather, exotic fruit, deep complexity and approachability. If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m referring to the Rhone Valley, with its main stars being Syrah, Viognier and Grenache.

Since my first sip, I’ve been a fan of Syrah. I like the deep purple hue and complexity of flavour, combining dark plum, intense tannins and hints of spice and cured meats. To me, Syrah is like that sexy, rugged guy every woman lusts after: strong and mysterious with many layers.

Viognier surprised me – I did not think I liked white wines that exhibited any florals, or ripe fruit. Early on in my wine experiences I tended to choose very dry, cleansing whites with not much happening on the nose. However, I’ve been converted to Viognier’s tropical aromas of peach, mango and papaya. I think what I like about it is that it is vinified dry, so the fruit is not overwhelming and too sweet on the palate. To me, Viognier is like every guy’s dream: an approachable girl next door who also has an exotic side.

The relationship between Syrah and Viognier stands out as an interesting factor when discussing wines from the Rhone. The idea that Viognier is often added to Syrah to add fragrance, soften the tannins and make the wine more approachable highlights the fact that wine blending is such a fascinating science. It also reminds me of a couple I know who really balance each other out: he’s a deep, intense personality and she mellows him out with her soft femininity and sweetness.

Grenache should not be overlooked when discussing the Rhone Valley. This grape has the best of both worlds, as it has both richness and deep colour, like Syrah; and sweetness on the nose like Viognier. However, the sweetness in Grenache comes from ripe berry fruit. I like its versatility, as Grenache grapes are also used to make rose wines as well as reds. In keeping with the theme, I suppose Grenache might be like that funny friend, who always brings lightness and fun to the relationship, and can be flexible in many situations.

Within the Rhone Valley, there are also some unique characteristics to different areas that make these wines interesting. Grenache is found in the South Rhone which is less vintage variable than the North due to its hotter, drier climate. This climate most likely explains the sweet berry character that results in the reds and roses produced with this grape.

In the North Rhone, the wines are more vintage variable and have to fend off the mistrals that blow in from the coastline and can reach up to 100 miles per hour. Also in the North, we find the Cote Roti or the “roasted slope” where Cote Brune and Cote Blonde exist. These two main vineyards named for the winemaker’s daughters (referring to their hair colour) show that the characteristics of wines can definitely be compared to those of the people around us, with Cote Brune providing heavier, more powerful wine much like a dark, mysterious brunette, and Cote Blonde producing more approachable, younger-drinking wines, like a friendly, cute blonde.
The area in the Rhone that intrigues me the most is Hermitage in the North – all south-facing slope, with notes of laurel, thyme and lavender in the terroir. I would like to explore these wines more in the future to experience for myself this notion of “garrigue”, where the grapes take on the characteristics of this surrounding vegetation.

In closing, I still have much to learn about these grapes and the wines of the Rhone Valley in general. However, making the connection between the characteristics of the wines of the Rhone, and the characteristics of the people in my life definitely combines two of my passions. It also makes me want to call up my friends and board a plane to this fascinating, sunny region in France!

*Photos courtesy of Sarah, Heather and Amy -- thanks girls!
**Grapes pictured are not Syrah, Viognier or Grenache.

Natalie MacLean's Drinks Matcher

I was lucky enough to make contact with the world's best drink writer, Canada's own Natalie MacLean, and she sent me this widget to share! Natalie is a passionate voice in the world of wine and she makes it easy to create your own food and wine pairings with her Drinks Matcher -- give it a try! You can find out more about Natalie and her amazing accomplishments here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rhubarb...shaken, not stirred.

Yesterday I cooked the rhubarb that I bought at the Parkdale Farmers' Market and it is patiently waiting to join a bowl of ice cream tonight. While I had it on the stovetop, I decided to drain off the liquid and try to make rhubarb syrup -- it wasn't entirely successful but I did end up with rhubarb juice -- very concentrated rhubarb juice. And what do you do with juice? You make a cocktail!

Rhubarb Cosmo:

1 shot Vodka (I used Absolut)
1 splash Triple Sec or Cointreau (or Grand Marnier if you're feeling fancy!
Rhubarb Juice
A splash of soda water
The juice from one lime wedge

Chill your martini glass prior to making the drink. Take a cocktail shaker and fill it halfway with ice cubes (not crushed ice as that will water it down). Pour in the vodka, triple sec, soda, lime juice and shake gently.
Pour a few drops of grenadine in the bottom of the martini glass, then strain the rest on top -- the grenadine changes the colour slightly and also adds a bit more sweetness, as rhubarb can be quite tart!
Garnish with a lime wedge.

I also thought about making this in a highball glass, with more soda water and a stalk of rhubarb as a garnish. There are so many possibilities! The best part about this cocktail is that there was no waste from the rhubarb! Eco-friendly and refreshing, it was fun to make and even more fun to drink!


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Parkdale Farmers' Market

Still on the hunt for local food, I visited the Parkdale Farmer's Market in Ottawa this weekend. As I strolled along the row of vendors, I enjoyed the colourful array of fruits, veggies and flowers. It was a feast for the eyes!
This market was quite populated with local Ottawans snapping up fresh food for their week's meals. After surveying the goods, I decided on some fresh rhubarb, cherry tomatoes, heirloom carrots, radishes, wild blueberries and gooseberries!

I read in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen that the Parkdale market will be getting a bit of a makeover in the coming year, with new concrete under the stalls, lighting, trees and banners as well as new canopies for each vendor. The city's commitment to recognizing local food is admirable, but the vendors themselves will have to cover the cost of the new canopies. In the end, I am looking forward to seeing this fabulous market even more revitalized and gaining more exposure in the city in the years to come!
With my bounty from this harvest I plan to make a special treat using the rhubarb (stay tuned to find out!) and I am currently looking for a delicious way to use the gooseberries :) All of the other local gems will go to good use as well --it is so much more rewarding to cook for your friends and family when you are using fresh, local produce!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bruschetta, anyone?

As requested I am posting my bruschetta recipe -- although it's not much of a recipe -- making bruschetta is easy as pie! Well....pie is actually a bit more complicated if you ask me, but back to bruschetta.

You say "to-may-to", I say "to-mah-to", you say "brus-k-etta", I say "bru-sh-etta" ....a musical interlude if you will, but also a valid point! Whichever way you pronounce it, it's pretty darn tasty!

My bruschetta recipe is fresh, rustic and quite garlicky.

You will need:
  • One very large, ripe tomato or a few smaller ones ... this makes enough for two people to share as a snack, but you can multiply the amounts for larger groups.
  • Two large cloves of garlic (I used the Mennonite garlic I picked up at the farmer's market)
  • Liberal amounts of olive oil, preferably extra virgin
  • Salt & pepper
  • Basil! I used purple basil and cinnamon basil for this recipe, just to spice it up a bit, however cinnamon basil is recommended for fruit dishes (wait! a tomato is a fruit!) Yes!
  • One lemon wedge

Dice the tomato into small squares. Season them with salt and pepper, then drizzle some olive oil over top. Mince garlic and throw it in! Chop up the basil and get it in there -- and drizzle more olive oil over the whole mixture. Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice inside and stir it up! (it might be a-propos to listen to a little Bob Marley while doing this....)

Cover the bowl and marinate in the fridge for a little while. Take it out of the fridge and allow the bruschetta to come to room temperature, it's much tastier this way! Spread on toasted bread or scoop up with tortilla chips, whatever you like. If you choose the bread option, you could brush the toast with olive oil and rub it with a garlic clove for even more taste. For even more taste, drizzle each bite with another little drop of olive oil. spice it up you could always put cheese on top and bake it in the oven -- my choice would be Fontina or Grana Padano.

There are many recipes for bruschetta out there, some use balsamic vinegar, some use less garlic, some blanch the tomatoes first and then peel them....have fun and make it however you like, or try my recipe!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shake the hand that feeds you....

When I read the above quote in Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food, it was one of many inspiring comments that woke me up a bit more about the decisions I make when I buy food. If you are like me and you have only picked up this book recently, don't feel badly that you are jumping on the Pollan bandwagon a little later than some.
If you eat, you should read this book.
I plan to move on to The Omnivore's Dilemma although I think he wrote that one first...I'm going backwards.

However backwards I may be in my library of literature, I can say that I am taking more and more steps forward when it comes to local food. Who would guess that I would find a cute little farmer's market in my own backyard? Well, technically not in my backyard, but if you've ever been to Arnprior you'll know what I mean! The Arnprior Farmer's Market is held every Wednesday on Elgin Street until 2 pm and it features some of the Ottawa Valley's freshest produce and handmade food products.

I made some delicious purchases and enjoyed chatting with some of the local vendors. It is very inspiring to see this going on in my own little town! It is my hope that more people in the area will stop by and support these local farmers and food producers.

My purchases included a jar of pear and ginger jam from Chridomar Gardens & Tasty Treats. The jars were almost as cute as the name of this small business: Chri-do-mar stands for Chris, Dominique and Mark, the names of their children!

I also picked up an organic zucchini and a beautiful raw food dessert from Yesim Gumus, who is a natural foods cook in the area. She and her Mom were both there, and they showed off their homemade food along with local produce they picked themselves at organic farms in the area. It is inspiring to see a mother and daughter sharing their love of food and health and educating others on natural ways of eating.
You can check out Yesim's blog here.

On to Straw Hat Farms, where I picked up a patty pan squash, that eventually made it into a salad with my previously mentioned zucchini, some tomato, red onion and fresh basil. Yum!

How to end a healthy lunchtime shopping spree at the market?
With something sweet!
I opted for some wildflower honey from Ottawa Valley Honey. Mike the honey guy was a friendly dude who really showed a passion for his product. He even brought his own honeybees for an added visual effect.

Mike is also at the Landsdowne Farmer's Market as well, look out for him there if you are in Ottawa.

I bought my gorgeous, fresh raspberries from Laura at McGregor's Produce. They will definitely be joining that wildlower honey in my yogurt and granola tomorrow morning!

Having thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of my local farmers' labour, I suggest you also hit your local farmer's market and see what colourful, fresh and tasty things call out to you! You might also meet some colourful characters! Happy shopping!