Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Herb Garden Grows...

I finally got around to adding more herbs to my little container herb garden. After that cold snap around Mother's Day, the basil just didn't make it. So, I purchased a bigger and better basil, along with some chocolate mint, oregano, rosemary and chives. I look forward to using these herbs throughout the summer! Hopefully they'll all survive my shady patio...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Who doesn't love a good surprise?

Tonight was all about surprises. First we went to Farbs Kitchen & Wine Bar and enjoyed some drinks and appetizers on the patio. It was a surprise birthday evening for one of the guests so the night kicked off with some surprise guests that he didn't know would be in attendance. Once we had a cocktail, we enjoyed some lovely small plates. I opted for a Sauvignon Blanc from Niagara with a gravlax and asparagus salad with pine nuts and creme fraiche. As a lovely surprise, our friendly waiter offered us some unexpected and decadent chocolate truffles as we went on our way to our next location. I definitely plan to return for dinner sometime.

We then headed to Fraser Cafe, where I once enjoyed a tasty brunch. Once again met by some great service, three of us in the party opted for the Chefs' choice entree, also known as "the surprise". It is so fun and refreshing to dine with people who are open to allowing the Chef to decide what they'll eat that night. I had an inkling that our wine choices helped dictate our dishes, but nonetheless everything was delicious and suited each guest perfectly. The birthday boy was very pleased with his lamb two ways, his friend enjoyed the duck breast, and I loved the curried halibut and mussels with a papadom drizzled with a yogurt and cucumber sauce.

I am often the one still pouring over the menu after the rest of the group has ordered, so I welcomed this "surprise" option with an open mind and a receptive palate! It not only allows you to enjoy a bit of mystery in your evening, but I would hope that this option is also fun for the Chefs as they get to experiment and flex their creative culinary muscles a bit more in the kitchen. I think more restaurants should have this option! All in all the evening was a success and great fun was had by all, mostly due to the surprise elements, I'm sure.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Maple Syrup & Wild Leek Festival

Ever wish you could visit a notable Chef's private farm? What about enjoying inspired dishes prepared in the out of doors by some amazing Ontario culinary teams? Well, my friend Carla (an apprentice under Chef Jamie Kennedy) did just that, and she was generous enough to report back to me with photos and a description of her visit to Chef Michael Stadtlanders's Eigensinn Farms.

Chef Jamie Kennedy and Chef Michael Stadtlander

The event was a Maple Syrup & Wild Leek Festival held on Sunday, May 2nd at Eigensinn Farm in Singhampton, Ontario. Chefs, cooks and apprentices were invited from George Brown College, Gilead Cafe & Bistro and The Drake Hotel among others. (See the end of this post for a full list of participants).

Each culinary team was charged with creating a tasty dish highlighting the spring bounty of wild leeks and maple syrup. The event was eco-friendly with guests bringing their own drinking vessels; some even brought their own cutlery and plates! The event was not only BYOB, but also BYOG (Bring your own glass), much like Feast of Fields, the event that JK and Stadlander started years ago. Stations were set up by the various groups of cooks and guests were invited to take a sample. Seating options varied from wooden benches, tree trunks or patches of grass under picnic blankets.

In Carla's words,

"The festival was absolutely amazing! I had never been to such an event or even such a setting. It was beautiful! Michelle described my reaction as "culture shock", which I found appropriate. It was also definitely very fun and interesting from a cook's perspective. To see and taste the amazing things that all of these cooks came up with to celebrate maple syrup and wild leeks. There was an undeniable sense of community among us cooks and guests alike. I really hope that this is the first of many events like that that I'll attend throughout my culinary career."

Please enjoy the rest of the photo story of this event(all photos courtesy of Carla Maya):

Breakfast courtesy of the Drake Hotel cooks

Baby wild leeks

Daikon and fish

Escabeche of Perch with a wild leek mignonette on a wild rice crepe (Gilead Bistro)


Freshly roasted coffee beans

Some of the JK Crew (including the lovely Carla, second from left)

The famous JK jars

Spanish Mackerel

Maple ice cream with ice wine jelly

Pork Belly


Picking wild leeks

Pork belly sandwich with wild leek mayo

Recycling Bins...

Whitefish chowder

Wild leek display

Wild leek pierogies

All I have to say is: YUM! Doesn't that all look so delicious? I love outdoor food events and am looking forward to the next Feast of Fields here in Ottawa!

List of Participants:

Michael Stadtländer of Eigensinn Farm and Haisai
John Higgins - George Brown College
Paul Böehmer - Böhmer
Kevin McKenna - Globe Bistro and Earth
Jamie Kennedy - Gilead Cafe
Bryan Steele - Old Prune and Stratford Chefs School
Hiro Yoshida - Hiro Sushi
Anthony Rose - Drake Hotel
Daisuke Izutsu - Kaiseki Sakura
Dustin Gallagher - Grace
Jeremy Korten - Oliver Bonacine Café Grill at Blue Mountain
Trish Donnelly - Oyster Boy
Michael Dixon - Commissary Cuisine
Anne Yarymowich - Frank
Tulip Boy - Fly By Night
Coffee by Merchants of Green Coffee
Tea by Whole World Trade Ltd.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Signature Drinks: Regular Joes and Restaurant Pros

Today in this signature drink series, I am pleased to introduce to you one of my "restaurant pros", Toronto-based Mixologist Courtney Stewart!

Courtney has mixed her creative drinks at Barrio, Soma and Kultura, and is currently working on new endeavours. A friend of mine told me about the fabulous cocktails and service she received from Courtney so I just had to contact her and ask her if she had a signature drink to share with After the Harvest.

She responded with her signature spring cocktail: Fresh Attitude!

In her words,

"Fresh Attitude is uber-refreshing and has been very well received by clients of mine as well as friends and family!"


For this recipe I prefer:
  • A very clean Vodka such as Iceberg, (which is Canadian and has been rated in the top three tasting Vodkas)
  • Fresh mint and/or basil
  • The juice of a perfectly ripe cucumber (if you do not have access to a juicer, muddling the cucumber with the lime and herbs will suffice)
  • Plump limes
  • An inexpensive Spanish Cava, (such as Segura Viudas or Freixenet)
  • Alternatively for a less potent drink, substitute Sparkling Elderflower Water for Cava.

You will need:

  • Mortar and Pestle
  • Knife and Cutting Board
  • Large Cocktail Shaker
  • 4 Champagne Flutes

For 4 Cocktails:

Chiffonade a sprig of mint and basil, (or two of one of the herbs), and remove the stem if possible. Cut a lime into quarters and muddle half with the herbs. Juice a well-washed cucumber with its skin, which should produce at least 8 oz. Then combine 4 oz Vodka, 4 oz juice, muddled lime and herbs with ice into shaker, mix vigorously then strain into four flutes. I enjoy torn herbs in mine but depending on your taste, you can strain through a fine strain for a cleaner presentation. This should amount to a little more than half the glass. Then pop open your Cava or Elderflower Water and fill the flute.

I don't know about you, but this cocktail sounds so refreshing and perfect for these sunny spring days we've been experiencing! Courtney and I plan to stay in touch, so stay tuned as she may be sharing more of her cocktails online in the future! Many thanks to Courtney for bringing her pro mixology skills to After the Harvest.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What I'm Reading: Eating Animals (Part Two)

I just couldn't limit my discussion of Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals to one post, so the conversation continues!

Obviously, among other things, this book discusses the choice of whether or not to eat meat. One point that resonated with me was the amount of meat our modern world is consuming, starting with America. Many of us do not realize how eating this much meat can affect our world in so many ways:

"The global implications of the growth of the factory farm, especially given the problems of food-borne illness, antimicrobial resistance, and potential pandemics, are genuinely terrifying. India's and China's poultry industries have grown somewhere between 5 and 13 percent annually since the 1980s. If India and China started to eat poultry in the same quantities as Americans (twenty-seven to twenty-eight birds annually), they alone would consume as many chickens as the entire world does today. If the world followed America's lead, it would consume over 165 billion chickens annually (even if the world population didn't increase).(page 148)."

In addition to the sheer amount of meat being consumed, the way this meat is raised has reached staggering levels of heinous in factory farms in the U.S. I will warn you, this next quote is graphic and may be upsetting to read. However, it also makes a statement explaining why you should never eat KFC again:

"Tyson Foods is a major KFC supplier. An investigation at one large Tyson facility found that some workers regularly ripped off the heads of fully conscious birds (with explicit permission from their supervisor), urinated in the live-hang area (including on the conveyor belt carrying the birds), and let shoddy automated slaughter equipment that cut birds' bodies rather than their necks go unrepaired indefinitely. At a KFC "Supplier of the Year" Pilgrim's Pride, fully conscious chickens were kicked, stomped on, slammed into walls, had chewing tobacco spit in their eyes, literally had the shit squeezed out of them, and had their beaks ripped off. And Tyson and Pilgrim's Pride not only supplied KFC; at the time of writing they were the two largest chicken processors in the nation, killing nearly five billion birds per year between them(page 182)."

With his graphic descriptions and personal stories, Safran Foer at times writes in the same vein as Eric Schlosser of Fast Food Nation fame. Safran Foer and Schlosser both bring us behind the gates of factory farms and onto the kill floors to see what is really going on. I admire both of them for having the bravery to expose these issues.

Industrial farming methods do not just affect land-based animals; the fish in the sea are also at risk. Learning more about sustainable fishing and making responsible fish purchases is something that is very important to me as I don't eat a lot of meat, but I do eat fish regularly. Reading this next passage really made me think:

pg. 190-192 "So are wild-caught fish a more humane alternative? They certainly have better lives before they are caught, since they do not live in cramped, filthy enclosures. ... But consider the most common ways of catching the sea animals most commonly eaten in America: tuna, shrimp and salmon. Three methods are dominant: longline fishing(many lines, often kill other sea animals in the process), trawling (pulled along the ocean floor...worse because it kills even more animals and also screws up ecosystem), and the use of purse seines(a net is put around the fish and tugged up like a purse string...they keep what they're looking for and throw the rest of the dead or injured fish back into the water)(pg 190-192)". *info in brackets = my words, summarizing definitions he provided.

Even more well said was this passage, cutting right to the core of the issue and seriously making me understand the connection between my "culinary desires" and the welfare of the species we kill and eat. Food for thought, in more ways than one.

"What conclusion would most selective omnivores reach if attached to each salmon they ate was a label noting that 2.5-foot-long farmed salmon spend their lives in the equivalent of a bathtub of water and that the animals' eyes bleed from the intensity of the pollution?" "You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate had to suffer. It did. Whether we're talking about fish species, pigs, or some other eaten animal, is such suffering the most important thing in the world? Obviously not. But that's not the question. Is it more important than sushi, bacon, or chicken nuggets? That's the question(page 193)."

Before I go ahead and quote the entire book to you, I will end on this note, also in Jonathan Safran Foer's words (he explains it so well, I just can't paraphrase!) This statement explains exactly how I feel about some of the difficulty we go through in trying to make ethical, socially and environmentally-responsible choices when putting food on our tables. Does it have to be this challenging? Why are we at this stage where we even need to question what is on our grocery store shelves?

"It shouldn't be the consumer's responsibility to figure out what's cruel and what's kind, what's environmentally destructive and what's sustainable. Cruel and destructive food products whould be illegal. We don't need the option of buying children's toys made withlead paint, or aerosols with chlorofluorocarbons, or medicines with unlabeled side effects. And we don't need the option of buying factory-farmed animals(page 266)."

However, since we are in this situation, I hope we can all try to commit to at least some small changes in our buying decisions. Consider not only the animal that had to die, but also how it may have been treated, its health and how your purchase affects our community and the environment, at home and at large. After reading this book I have not decided to go vegetarian, but I am staying committed to making more responsible choices when purchasing animal products.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Signature Drinks: Regular Joes and Restaurant Pros

In keeping with my signature drink series, I thought it was about time to share my own favourite summer cocktails! Although I've worked in the restaurant industry quite a bit, I'm pretty sure I qualify as a "Regular Joe".

Photo Credit: Flickr user teenage_precious

On a warm summer night out with girlfriends in the city, I almost always choose a Cosmopolitan. I know, it's so predictable! However, once a bartender made me a Cosmo using Grand Marnier instead of Triple Sec, and it made this standard girly drink that much more flavourful!

Photo Credit: Flickr user bsdubois00

Put ice cubes into a cocktail shaker, then add:
1 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
the juice from half a lime
a splash of cranberry juice

A cosmo should be pink (not red) so make sure it's only a splash of cranberry! The flavours blend so nicely and make for the perfect summer cocktail!

Photo Credit: Flickr user Speed-Light

When it's time to hit a patio, I highly suggest you try a "Diablo Margarita" made famous by the great people at Tortilla Flats, one of my favourite patio spots in Toronto. The recipe is simple: half Corona, (or Sol or Dos Equis), half margarita mix (although I suppose you could also use pure lime juice, it just wouldn't be as sweet!)

Photo Credit: Flickr user naughton321

When I was first offered this drink the combination didn't sound all that appealing to me, but once I had a sip on that sunny patio, my mind was changed! It's the perfect refreshing beverage for an afternoon on the patio with friends.

Next time you hit a patio or go out on the town this summer, why not try some of the tasty cocktails I've been featuring in this series! Up next: a talented mixologist and her signature cocktail! Stay tuned!

Monday, May 17, 2010

What I'm Reading: Eating Animals (Part One)

Eating Animals
By Jonathan Safran Foer

Copyright 2009 by Jonathan Safran Foer
Little, Brown & Company

Well, it took me a while, but I finally finished Jonathan Safran Foer's book: Eating Animals. I first heard about this book on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, and my interest was piqued. Like I've said in previous posts, I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan, but I do try to make conscious food choices and focus on health as much as possible. For these reasons I felt that it was important to read this book.

Safran Foer begins the book with a personal story about his grandmother and her relationship to food. At the outset, he shows his unique writing style, focusing on storytelling in order to make impactful points. Everyone views food differently based on their experience with it -- I think we can all agree on that, and Safran Foer illustrates his own personal experience with food as a preface to the rest of the book.

As I read along, I found myself in Safran Foer's camp more and more, until I came across his first (albeit indirect) shot at omnivores such as Michael Pollan:

"The choice-obsessed modern West is probably more accommodating to individuals who choose to eat differently than any culture has ever been, but ironically, the utterly unselective omnivore -- "I'm easy; I'll eat anything" -- can appear more socially sensitive than the individual who tries to eat in a way that is good for society. Food choices are determined by many factors, but reason (even consciousness) is not generally high on the list"(page 32).

After I got over the initial shock of someone (God forbid) criticizing the almighty Pollan, I realized that it was fair to criticize the omnivore's stance in this type of constructive manner, and I applaud his bravery to do so. Another Pollan criticism came along as I read, this one discussing the concept of "table fellowship":

"...what Pollan curiously doesn't emphasize, is that attempting to be a selective omnivore is a much heavier blow to table fellowship than vegetarianism. Imagine an acquaintance invites you to dinner. You could say, "I'd love to come. And just so you know, I'm a vegetarian." You could also say, "I'd love to come. But I only eat meat that is produced by family farmers." Then what do you do? "(pg. 55).

The reality of this statement set in for me as I can totally relate. Whether you're eating at a friends' house, dining out or picking up something on the go, it is definitely difficult to bring up any conscious food concerns without offending your host or tablemates. It can come across as condescending or elitist. Unfortunately this is a reality, but I really hope things start to change! I would hope that in the next 20 years this issue fades away, as more and more of us would be eating from family farms and focusing on local, sustainable choices.

Safran Foer definitely has a way with words, and a writing style that is entertaining and easy to read. He provides unique headings, word graphics and facts at the beginning of each section, which, for me, draws a parallel to the "Gen X" writing style made famous by Douglas Coupland. In the same vein, he defines many terms, both literally, from a factory farm perspective and in a tongue in cheek fashion; this also reminds me of Coupland. It's a modern, pseudo-journalistic style of writing that cuts to the chase, entertains and educates all at once.

He allows some of the people profiled in the book to tell their own story -- and not just the stories that support what you think his views are going to be in the end (ie. pro-vegetarianism). By allowing others to debate each side, Safran Foer puts all of the views out there without preaching about them himself or contradicting himself by writing passionately about sides of the arguments he doesn't support. This is a really useful technique, although I can't guarantee he didn't edit the letters these people wrote, because they're all very well-written and seem to flow naturally within the book.

Although I have read a few books on conscious eating, I learned a lot from this book. For example, the story of the first (unintentional) factory farmer, Celia Steele, who received too many chickens by accident and ended up changing the whole industry because of what she fed the chickens and how many she bred and housed. This was in 1923!

Just when I thought Michael Pollan was safe from any more criticism, poultry farmer Frank Reese gives his opinion of Joel Salatin, a poultry farmer heavily lauded by Pollan and featured in Food Inc. Reese explains:

"Turkeys used to be raised out on fields like this by the millions in America. This kind of turkey is what everybody had on their farms for hundreds of years, and what everybody ate. And now mine are the only ones left, and I'm the only one doing it this way. Not a single turkey you can buy in a supermarket could walk normally, much less jump or fly. Did you know that? They can't even have sex. Not the antibiotic-free, or organic, or free-range, or anything. They all have the same foolish genetics, and their bodies won't allow for it anymore. Every turkey sold in every store and served in every restaurant was the product of artificial insemination. If it were only for efficiency, that would be one thing, but these animals literally can't reproduce naturally. Tell me what could be sustainable about that?"(pg. 110/111).

"Everyone's saying buy fresh, buy local. It's a sham. It's all the same kind of bird, and the suffering is in their genes....Michael Pollan wrote about Polyface Farm in The Omnivore's Dilemma like it was something great, but that farm is horrible. It's a joke. Joel Salatin is doing industrial birds. Call him up and ask him. So he puts them on pasture. It makes no difference....KFC chickens are almost always killed in thirty-nine days. They're babies. That's how rapidly they're grown. Salatin's organic free-range chicken is killed in forty-two days. 'Cause it's still the same chicken"(pg. 113).

I don't know enough about chickens to really comment on this, but it definitely made me raise an eyebrow and start thinking! I still think people should buy fresh and local foods, but Reese's testimonial hits home because it reminds us that not only in poultry but in many other foods, heritage breeds or heirloom seeds are no longer in existence. The chicken we are eating today is not the same chicken people ate years ago. This is why it is so essential to make conscious food choices. We need to stop getting worse and start getting better, in every sense of the word.

Having said that, please consider donating to my Save a Seed project!

Tune back in soon for Part 2 of my discussion on Eating Animals. I know many of you out there are also reading it right now, and I would definitely suggest more people give it a chance. It can really teach you something about your relationship to food.

Ok, I have to get out into that gorgeous sunshine now! Happy week everyone!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Compost Party!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon helping out my pals at Vegetable Patch. I guess you could say we had a bit of a compost party! With shovels in hand and wheelbarrows a plenty, we got to work building our own mini mountain ranges of fertile compost in the landowners' gardens.

Pretty soon these gardens will be raked and planted with lots of veggies for CSA shareholders, farmers' market customers and landowners alike, but for now they are simply compost.

A little hard work never hurt anyone, and I really enjoyed helping out Jesse and his team. If you missed last summer's story on Vegetable Patch you can check it out here:

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

For now, enjoy the photos from my day of urban gardening, one of many to come I'm sure! With my girly pink gardening gloves, "Old Faithful" (the duct-taped shovel on its last legs that worked like a charm), new friends and a beautiful sunny day, I'd say it was a success!

At the first garden site, we moved around 5 tonnes of compost (correct me if I'm remembering that wrong, Veggie Patchers!), and then we moved on to pile #2. In this neighbourhood there were four homeowners who are participating in the Vegetable Patch program, and I can't get over the size of their yards! Some are quite beautiful with flowers and benches and other garden cuteness, but they all made room for a large vegetable patch. I look forward to seeing them develop and grow throughout the season!

Vegetable Patch Team (L to R): Jesse, Genevieve, Kirsten