Saturday, June 26, 2010

Signature Drinks: Regular Joes and Restaurant Pros

Happy Saturday, everyone! Looking for a refreshing summer cocktail to sip tonight? Well look no further because I'm pleased to bring you the latest installment of Signature Drinks: Regular Joes and Restaurant Pros!

Meet Chef Michael Moffatt, a definite "Restaurant Pro" and the Executive Chef at Beckta Dining and Wine and Play Food and Wine here in Ottawa.

Through our email correspondence I got the sense that Chef Moffatt is a bit like his restaurants: a serious culinary professional, but with a sense of fun and a down to earth nature. He is a Chef that would not only wow you on the plate, but then sit down and have a cocktail with you and share a story. So, without further ado, let's pull up a chair and listen to Chef Mike tell us about his favourite summer cocktail:

"My favourite summer drink is a Vodka Gimlet. I use the classic preparation, but with 1/2 fresh lime juice and half Rose's lime cordial. The story is that when I worked in Banff years ago my diet was, shall we say, lacking balance? Pretty well the only thing I could guarantee I would consume every day was booze(it was Banff after all!) So, in a drunken stupor one night in conversation with a buddy, I decided it would be smart to start mixing citrus into my drinks so I didn't get scurvy -- remember I was pretty drunk when I was thinking about this! Anyway, I started buying limes and just adding sugar to the vodka. When in conversation with a bartender one night he told me about the Gimlet and basically told me I was making a half-assed version of it so I might as well try the real thing. I've been hooked ever since -- one for the taste, and two because it reminds me of my time in Banff --very nice partial memories!"

Photo Credit: Flickr user erikhagman

Vodka Gimlet (Banff-style!)

2oz Vodka(really good stuff or why bother???)
1oz Simple syrup
2oz Lime juice
2oz Lime cordial

Stir together..also easy to make in a bathtub quantity!

Sounds refreshing! I'm a huge lime lover myself so this is one I'm definitely going to try very soon. Listening to his stories of working in Banff brought back memories of my own when my own diet consisted largely of Carib beer, Smirnoff Ice and Rum Punch when I was part of a fun, international crew who worked on Toronto's best party boats. Ah, the memories of Roti, "cold tea" and summer fun...

Thanks to Chef Moffatt for sharing his recipe and story with After the Harvest!

I'm working on a new series idea, so this may be the last signature drink I'll be sharing for a while, but please feel free to go back through the series and make some of these tasty beverages at your parties and events this summer!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

5 Questions with Sara Klimes

I think it's safe to say that anyone who reads this blog probably has some sort of interest in local food, urban agriculture, or food security in general. But how many of us actually know someone who is actually studying the topic, or working towards making change in our food system by planning a career around it? Never met a Food Security student? Well, until a few weeks ago, neither had I until I came across Sara Klimes.

Originally from Vancouver Island, Sara is a passionate, articulate young lady with a desire to delve deeply into the world of food, one issue at a time. A healthy vegetarian, she makes a conscious effort to grow as much of her own food at home as possible and enjoys preserving tomatoes and making jams. Like myself, Sara is also a "disciple" of the great Michael Pollan. I asked Sara if she'd share a bit about her passion for food issues by answering 5 Questions:

After the Harvest (ATH): Can you explain to me exactly what your program is called and why you chose it?

Sara Klimes (SK): I am doing a Masters in Globalization and International Development, with a focus on Food Security and Urban Agriculture. I decided to come to Ottawa U and do this program because I have this need to understand the world so I can do my part to help change it. Especially interesting to me is the power imbalance in the world, and food issues definitely illustrate this imbalance.

ATH: Why urban agriculture?

SK: I read about Cuba and learned that they have some of the best urban agriculture in the world. They developed their food systems out of necessity because of their history as a nation, but they have public seed banks and cooperatives and a vibrant local food scene. Can you believe Canada doesn't even have a food security policy? It is good to know people are working to change this, but we really need to be proactive about our food system, not reactive.

Photo Credit: Flickr user sheralooma

ATH: Besides food issues, do you have any other passions?

SK: Yes -- dance! I love ballet and modern, and I've even started teaching a hip hop class on campus.

ATH: What would you say is your favourite ingredient to use while cooking?

SK: Definitely onions, usually Spanish onions. I find a way to incorporate onions into almost every meal.

ATH: What are your favourite food-related books?

SK: Michael Pollan books, especially In Defense of Food and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle.

Wow -- everyone is telling me to read that Barbara Kingsolver book! So stay tuned to After the Harvest, as I am sure I'll get around to discussing it with all of you once I get my hands on it. It's great to meet like-minded people, especially those with a passion for food. To top it all off, Sara was even sporting a custom made tee shirt (green, of course) that touted Michael Pollan's famous maxim: "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants." I look forward to seeing what Sara does in the future to help shape our food systems and policies, but in the meantime, I'm happy to hear her tales of canning tomatoes and backyard gardening. Thank you, Sara!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Baja Inspired Dinner

This weekend I made a Baja, California inspired dinner for my parents, who are celebrating their 40th Anniversary this year. I was inspired by their fond memories of vacations to Cabo San Lucas, and the beautiful summery weather we've been enjoying (save for the frequent rainfalls we've been having!)

I decided on fish tacos for the main and chose a California salad and coconut rice as my sides. Of course we started with guacamole, tortilla chips and Coronas with lime, but we quickly moved onto the main course. To dress the tacos I cut up some extra avocado and made a mango salsa, some pico de gallo and a white sauce. All of my online resources told me to use shredded cabbage in my tacos, so I didn't question the majority and it resulted in a nice crunch in the taco.

red cabbage

pico de gallo

mango salsa

white sauce

Coconut rice may not be Californian or Mexican, but I felt it would be a good side dish to a beach-themed dinner. Light and fluffy Jasmine rice flavoured with coconut? How can you go wrong? It was a total hit, down to the toasted coconut sprinkled on top.

coconut rice

We washed it all down with a nice Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand and some mint, cucumber and lime-infused water.

Sauvignon Blanc

mint/cucumber/lime-infused water

Although there is quite a bit of prep, this is a tasty, summery meal and if I do say so myself, my parents really enjoyed it! Why not give it a try?

Baja Inspired Menu

Corona with lime
Guacamole with tortilla chips -- in my guacamole I use avocado, tomato, garlic, lime juice and red onion

Fish Tacos:
Soft tortillas
Grilled and flaked Cod (wild caught from the East Coast of Canada = a sustainable choice)
Pico de gallo -- plum tomatoes, white onion, cilantro, lime juice, Cerrano chilies or jalapenos
Mango salsa -- diced mango, red pepper, green onion, cilantro, lime juice
White sauce -- yogurt, cilantro, chives, lemon juice, garlic, hot sauce
Shredded cabbage -- red cabbage or Napa cabbage

California Salad:
Baby Spinach
Slivered almonds
Goat cheese

Lemon goat cheese dressing:
Goat cheese
Lemon juice
Olive oil
White wine vinegar
Fresh chives
Dijon mustard

Coconut Rice:
2 cups Jasmine Rice
2 cups coconut milk
1 3/4 cups water
2 tbsp shredded coconut
1/2 tsp coconut oil
top with toasted coconut

Why not re-live some of your own vacations with an aptly themed menu? Where have you traveled to lately?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Signs of Life

Over the past few days I've noticed some signs of life in my little lettuce beds! It is very exciting and rewarding to see something you've planted from seed start to sprout. The jury's out on how successful these lettuce plants will be, but I'm thinking positively.

My herbs are doing well and I have been enjoying experimenting with them in the kitchen. The chocolate mint especially smells heavenly.

Although it's not edible, I am also marveling at the abundance of my hosta plant! I look forward to the day it starts to flower! How are your plants and vegetable gardens doing? Any success stories? Please share :)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'm Back on Coffee...

Photo Credit: Flickr user yelalaily

Maybe it's because I recently re-joined the ranks of the nine to fivers, or maybe it's because there's a Bridgehead five minutes away from my humble abode -- whatever the reason, I'm back to drinking coffee.

I still drink tea way more than coffee and I have definitely cut back on coffee consumption since I first started this no-coffee experiment, but nonetheless, I'm back to imbibing the chocolatey nectar. I think it might be the taste that beckoned me back. It was either that or the full pot of coffee that's ready every morning as I enter the lunchroom at work to put my salad in the fridge.

I think my first housewarming gift to my new workplace will definitely be some Bridgehead coffee, not that the coffee they serve doesn't taste good, but it's that other type of coffee that Raj Patel alluded to...

I still believe it's a better practice to drink more tea than coffee and I must say, I am more alert in the mornings now that I don't need a coffee to start my day. However, after a tasty dinner or at a meeting between friends or colleagues, I must admit it's nice to have a steaming cup of joe.

So raise your espresso cups and join me in a toast to balance in beverage consumption and the smooth, rich taste of a beautiful, organic, fairly traded cup of coffee.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dreaming of Future Salads

Photo Credit: Flickr user the garden bell

I finally planted my lettuce seeds! After way too much research I just threw caution to the wind and winged it by planting my seeds in two window boxes, just under a foot apart. Here's hoping it works!

This is my first foray into container gardening of any sort, so I'm looking forward to learning from the experience. I had grand designs on building a wooden box, or a raised bed of some sort, but eventually decided to go with the window boxes. Although these seeds really should have been planted months ago, I am still hoping they will produce some lovely greens for future salads.

In my search for organic seeds, I came across Aimers Organics and their line of vegetable seeds suited for the Canadian climate. According to Aimers, this line of seeds "has been chosen for its excellence in performance and its suitability to the Canadian climate." Their seeds are 100% open-pollinated (no hybrids) and 100% certified organic.

I chose Black Seeded Simpson, Red Salad Bowl and Buttercrunch lettuces. I'm really a fan of red leaf lettuce so I'm especially excited to see its multicoloured shoots start growing!

Now it's just a matter of time! If all goes well I should expect some sprouts about 2weeks into the process. Wish me luck!

If you're looking for great advice on container gardening, I would look no further than P. Allen Smith or my new favourite gardening blog, Life on the Balcony.

What are you planting on your balcony or in your backyard?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Wine in a Can?

First it was wine in a box, then came the screwcap, synthetic corks and Tetrapaks -- now the newest fad in wine is the aluminium can. Wine's packaging facelift is either an attempt to boost sales, a way to be kinder to the earth or a solution to making wine more democratic and portable. I'm not sure if this is a good environmental step or just a marketing fad, but I guess only time will tell. I've been aware of the wine industry's newest venture into aluminum cans for a while, and I finally spied some cans of wine in my local LCBO, so I had to see for myself. Would this wine actually taste good? Why is it in a can in the first place? Wouldn't the can impart a tinny quality to the wine? Am I supposed to drink it from the can or pour it into a glass? So many questions...

Apparently wine in a can was first created for airline meals, but some would argue that cans of wine are also picnic and camping-friendly and they also maintain cool temperatures longer than a glass bottle. This wine happens to be Billy Rock Station's Shiraz. The back of the can reads: "Billy will love the feel and smooth taste of this wine, with its lovely, deep rich red colour, it oozes opulence and style". Can we say marketing bull***t? I sipped the wine from the can and also from a glass, and I cannot remember when I have disliked a wine more! Plus, the description doesn't really tell me much, other than the fact that I'm about to drink a high-alcohol, overly fruity new world wine. All I could smell was the can, and a strong aroma of syrupy fruit; it was like smelling an overly intense boysenberry jam. On the palate I got a sweet, somewhat tinny flavour. This wine was quite "flabby" as has been said by many more educated wine critics than myself.

The one thing I do like about wine in a can is its environmental impact. It's lighter to transport so its carbon footprint is smaller, and it's easy to recycle. However, single serving cans could be more wasteful than one bottle for every five glasses. Wine in a can does make it more accessible in a way, but part of what I love about wine is the romance involved in uncorking a bottle. You just don't get the same feeling from flipping the tab on a can. So if wine in bottles is snobby, then so be it. I'm a snob. Perhaps the white wines are better and more can-friendly? If I dare to try, I guess I'll find out, but I don't see myself purchasing wine in a can again anytime soon.

So cheers, everyone. Raise your glass, can or bottle to advancements in the wine industry -- good or bad, they get us talking more about wine, and in the words of Martha Stewart, that's "a good thing".

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Talking about Food Sovereignty with Raj Patel

Photo Credit: Flickr user hwilkinson

The Ottawa Writersfest continued Monday night with Raj Patel's talk on his new book, The Value of Nothing. Who's Raj Patel? Well, he's an academic, an activist, a new father, an author and an engaging public speaker. He has every reason to be entitled and pompous, but he comes across as probably one of the most honest, down to earth people who could most likely get along with anyone, anywhere in the world. After hearing him speak, I look forward to reading both of his books, most notably his previous book that discusses the world's food system -- Stuffed and Starved.

In large part, his lecture discussed food issues. For a general recap of the event you can click here to read what I wrote for the Writersfest discussion board. For now, however, let's talk food.

Patel highlighted La Via Campesina, an organization also known as the International Peasants Movement. In a nutshell, this organization is trying to bring democracy back to our food system. They single handedly coined the phrase "food sovereignty" and they have been known to target corporations such as Monsanto. In general, they are attempting to tackle patriarchy in the food system. Patel quoted la Via Campesina: "Food sovereignty is about an end to all forms of violence against women". According to Patel, the main issue is inequality and abuse of power all the way down the food system. Food sovereignty is defined as "the claimed "right" of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces"(Wikipedia).

As the lecture went on, Patel talked about the decision to buy fair trade coffee versus what he jokingly called "bastard coffee" (in other words, exploitative coffee). It is absurd that we should even have to make this choice at all. Patel is all for making responsible shopping decisions, but he doesn't think that alone will change the food system.

Photo Credit: Flickr user

He asked a question of us all: "How are we going to feed the world in 2050 when there are 9 billion people and we mostly live in cities?" His answer to this question involved new farming technology, food sovereignty and new democratic systems. The future according to Raj Patel includes less private property and more shared land in the form of community gardens, for example. The alternative of continuing to source our food in supermarkets is sometimes necessary, but definitely not ideal. We are sitting ducks when we roll in with our carts, with all of these food products telling us to take them home. "Everything in a supermarket is engineered to make you consume more", says Patel.

Artistic Director Sean Wilson asked some very good questions, one of them being: "Wal-Mart is the top seller of organic food in North America. Is this a good thing?" to which Mr. Patel gave a great explaination. First of all, Wal-Mart is the biggest grocer in the world, so that explains the high volume sales, and if people are going to get food from Wal-Mart, obviously organics are preferable. However, the issue is actually the fact that some people are in such a dire economic situation that they are relying on places like Wal-Mart for food because it's the only place where they can afford to shop. Patel claims that this is the question people are "not allowed to ask." He even went as far to say that Food Inc., a film he did enjoy, came up short by not answering that question. It isn't enough to buy local, sustainable and organic; what Patel is saying is that parts of the food movement are forgetting about the poorest people in the equation. They are the very people who are picking the fruit and harvesting the vegetables that all of us are buying, but they cannot even afford it themselves. In other words, slavery is not a thing of the past. The tomato farmer who picks the tomato to go on a $1.00 McDonald's value meal can't even afford to eat it himself.

The idea that it's even called a "value meal" is ridiculous, anyhow. It's a burger that may only cost $1.00, but its environmental, social and human cost is so much larger. "The value is entirely not in the meal", says Patel.

In a nutshell, Patel is saying that sensible consumption is good, but not enough. We need to take action on a municipal level. We need to be more civically engaged. So, from where I'm sitting, this not only means voting with my dollars, but also rolling up my sleeves and getting involved on a local level. One way I'm doing that is by helping out my pals at Vegetable Patch. It's groups like this who I hope will help change the urban landscape and provide local, secure food sources for all. What are you doing to get involved in your local food scene?