In the early spring a work relationship drastically changed. A project I fully supported was not to be and I chose to deal with it and make the best of the situation.
There were a few challenges I wanted to accomplish this growing season, no matter what my work situation was, and most of them included sowing, growing, harvesting, preparing, and preserving plenty of plants and flowers. Being connected to the food I wanted to eat and prepare is integral to my career goals but also personal; I want to rely less and less on imported foods during the winter months.
I'm fortunate to have some very supportive people in my life. They understand the needs to experiment, want me to to be healthy, and want to see me be successful in business ventures. I researched, I sourced, I bought seeds. Lots of seeds. And I prepared garden beds. Then another. Then another.
With three gardens to take care of, it's easy to see where the past four months have gone. I just look at all the produce in my fridge and short tan lines for reminders.
While attempting to figure out 'what's next' (Build a kitchen instead of renting? Go work for someone else?), Spring came along and told me to hurry up.
The month of April and the first half of May saw me house & dogsitting which conveniently offered plenty of time to hike around local wooded areas giving myself and the dog some much needed exercise. While we walked (or in Folly's case, chased wild turkeys) we watched the ground for constant new growth and did a little soul searching.
Earth Day today. In between tending vegetable and flower seedlings that will eventually be planted in gardens and pots, I've been taking daily hikes while I'm dog-sitting to explore and scope out this years foraging possibilities. I've found more ramps than I'll ever be able to process or consume (send me an email if you want to purchase any) and am using the time watch Mother Nature unfold from winter into spring. It snowed today but I'm going by the calendar date, not the weather forecast. Morels are on my wish-list for 2015 and I think I may have found a few places to keep watch in the next coming weeks. I could be sitting in an office, or standing in a kitchen, but playing in the soil seems like the right place for me to be right now.
I had to Google-fu this plant. While looking at pictures for another mystery green this one popped up which I wanted to ID anyway. It's Bloodroot. Has some medicinal properties, probably poisonous. The red sap was used by Indigenous People's to dye fabrics. Really distinctive leaf shape and unusual flower in that it blooms often before the leaves unfurl.
This plant was a stumper for me. Really textured leaves. Almost like spinach but larger with deeper ridges. Another Google-fu for spring + weed + rosette turned up common teasel. Those thistles (I think I've been saying it wrong my entire life - should be teasel??) you see in late summer/early fall with the purple tinge? This is the plant they come from.
Cinnamon Hearts are little red, heart-shaped, hard candies spiked with a hot and spicy cinnamon flavour. Typically they are only available around Valentine's Day but in this world where stores advertise for the next spending occasion before the current one has arrived you can find them for several months of the year.
I like to play around with Valentine treat ideas simply because all us single gals know February 14th is not just for couples. At least that's what I'm telling myself. We don't need a significant other to have a good time! With a little sugar cookie dough, a simple ice cream base, Alton Brown's doughnut recipe, and a bag of cinnamon hearts, Cupid can take the day off.
Grind Cinnamon Hearts to Make a Powder
Instead of using a bottle of food-dye and extracts to flavour and colour your Valentine treats, grind cinnamon hearts to make a powder. With a coffee grinder (wiped clean before and after each use!), cinnamon hearts can be easily pulverized into a pink powder. Use the powder like you would icing sugar to infuse frostings, fondants, ice creams, or dust pastries with that unforgettable spicy cinnamon aroma and colour.
Perhaps you have seen pasta made with vegetable juice. Muted green from spinach is the first image that comes to my mind. I've always found the colour in these pastas also reflected the flavour - equally as muted.
So what is a method for intensifying the colour and flavour? Cook your pasta in vegetable juice.
For the past six months I have been working on a sustainable farm on the western edge of St. Thomas. One of my last blog posts before ignoring this website for a while was about a few local farms. As it turns out, one of them is where I ended up spending many of my summer and fall days.
On Our Little Farm we run a CSA program (community supported agriculture) and raise pastured pork, chickens, and ducks. At the farm is a mobile wood-fired oven on a trailer. This oven at one time was parked outside the landowner's garage and each day at the farm I would walk by it dreaming of when we would fire it up. Now that vegetables are done for the year and the animals are taken care of by Mark (he and his family began Our Little Farm), everyone had a little bit of time to spare to see just what this beautiful beast could do. Timed with a pickup date for the pastured pork, Wednesday Dec. 3 was the perfect opportunity to do some baking in the oven.
Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a night and put up a few jars of jam. It was at the crossroads during summer where so many local fruits are ripe and just begging to be preserved. Some are enjoyed fresh, of course (usually with cream and in a variety of pastries), but the abundance all at once means some have to be put away to be enjoyed later. Strawberries, black currants, blueberries, raspberries, black caps, and sour cherries made an appearance and now that we're into August the peaches, apricots, and elderberries are ripening on the trees. It's sort of a blessing in disguise the tomatoes are slow to ripen this year (same with the corn) as the beans, beets, cucumbers, and everbearing fruits are keeping me busy enough.
When people see my selection of preserves they usually comment on the 'different' flavour combinations I have available. They way I see it, so many other people have 'regular' jam available for sale. Sometimes they make it themselves but more often than not they have someone else do it for them and slap their label on it. That being said, many of the businesses that do this give their own produce to the canner to use. With so much competition on the market for selling jams and preserves, I have to be different. Jars aren't cheap and neither are kitchen rental rates. Combine those expenses with the actual cost of the food such as premium produce (frequently hand-picked), exclusively locally sourced, often organically grown and you can see why it's much more economical for folks to make it themselves.
For those who are DIY'ers, here is the recipe for Raspberry Anise Jam. It's a combination of sweet and tart with a hint of liquorice flavour that comes from crushed anise seeds. For those who appreciate the craft and taste of small-batch preserves but don't have the time to put up their own, send me an email for prices and shipping rates.
I shared this picture on the Elgin Harvest facebook page last week after finding a stash of photos in a Julia Child biography. This was taken in early 2001 at the end of a pastry class while I was in chefs school. (As an aside: I went out for ice cream with a friend last night and he thought this was recent. I'd like to think I've changed somewhat but I'm okay if someone thinks I look 23.)
I make it no secret I'm not sure what direction to move in when the fall arrives. I have been back in the Elgin area off and on for the past 9 years and in that time I've done what I can to alter the perception and knowledge regarding high quality cuisine. Has it changed at all for the better?
I have no desire to be a line cook in a place that serves Caesar salad with Kraft salad dressings. I think french fried chips should be reserved for food trucks and diners and not served as a side option to every meal in the county. I refuse to purchase or use frozen pastry that came off a Sisco truck. Meat does not have to hold the largest piece of real estate on the dinner plate, nor does it have to come from industrial farm factories. I think some people spend too little money on food because they have been taught that food should be cheap. They have two cars in the driveway less than 3 years old, each have Iphones for themselves and children, 4 tv's in the house with cable and Netflix, go on vacations to Disneyland yearly, use the dryer during the daytime, buy soda pop, go clothes shopping once a month, but complain their food bills are too high. This map published yesterday outlines just how much - or little - each country spends on food each year and it's staggering to note the differences.
I do my best to support local producers whenever I can, much of it organic and sustainably produced. That often means I pay 50-400% more for some items than what you would pay in the grocery store or what a restaurant would pay for things ordered from a food distributor. My costs are higher, which means the prices for my goods should be higher, but it's an uphill battle when only a small percentage of the population (but an incredibly loyal & hungry percentage!) knows the difference between Pillsbury or not, including many of the area chefs - and price becomes the determining factor. "Such and such place is cheaper, I'm going to buy from them. It's what I know. It's what I'm willing to spend." Some people simply don't care either.
Well, why am I here if I am unable to find work where my skills are required and get paid a living wage?
Because of Elgin County farms like HOPE Eco Farms, Dancey Family Farm, and Our Little Farm.
I frequently wear an Ontario handmade and dyed headband when I'm cooking which has the phrase, "Stay mindful" imprinted on it. It's a reminder to stay in the moment and live life day-to-day, celebrating what is as it happens. I think about that phrase as the flour sticks to my forehead, dough pastes itself to my cuticles, two timers beep simultaneously, croissants all of a sudden speed up proofing, the dishwasher finishes a cycle, I remember that I forgot paper bags on the counter at home, I curse out loud because I ran out of baking powder, and a Dandy Warhol's song begins playing on the radio.
I can't help but live in the moment or else something will burn. And sometimes it does.
It's shaping up to be a fantastic year for local foods.
Last year (2013) the government took steps to redefine the word "local". While it formerly meant within 100km, local now refers to provincial wide. This is great for rurally produced foods who want to sell in large urban centers and be able to market their product as local but it also means you could be eating a salad in Kenora with tomatoes grown by your neighbour in Bayham Township and the restaurant would be completely honest in calling them 'locally grown'.
We're incredibly fortunate to have access to a wide variety of high quality agro-products grown and prepared right here in Elgin County. When you think about it, it's really the best kind of problem to have: so much food to choose from in season the imports aren't needed.
Last weekend was a soft opening to market season when I had a booth set up at a local trade show. This weekend is the grand opening with the full-on farmers' market beginning May 10. But wait - there's more!
Spreading the Bread Love - with Tea
Just in case you can't seem to get yourself out of bed early enough on Saturday mornings, you will now have another option on where to pick up your sourdough bread on Saturdays. Wildflowers Tea, located on Fruit Ridge Line, south of St. Thomas, will be selling Elgin Harvest loaves at their newly opened farm store!
Jane, from Wildflowers Tea, has been a vendor at the St. Thomas market for the past four seasons and has taken the plunge to open her own store on her family's farm. The store provides space for offering eggs, organic produce, yoga classes, seasonal festivals, workshops, and of course, wildflower tea - much of it grown on the farm. Not only can you sit on the porch and enjoy a steaming cup of wildflowers tea, you can also stroll the gardens to see and smell the positive energy that vibes from the land.
I'm incredibly excited to work with Jane and I look forward to sharing and supporting our passion for good food at the farm store this season. This Saturday is a great time to visit the farm - Wildflowers is hosting an open house from 10-3.
You can find out more information about Wildflower's Tea by visiting the website.
I wrote about Wildflowers Tea in 2012 when I used a tea to prepare Lavender Mint Shortbread.
As mentioned, this Saturday is the opening day of the St. Thomas Horton Farmers' Market. This is my fifth season at the market and I'm anxious to see familiar faces and tempt new fans with all the baked goods and preserves I can whip up.
- Sourdough breads
- Seeded Crisps & Hummus
- Cinnamon Brioche Rolls with Blueberries
- Cherry Cardamom Scones
- Coconut Brown Butter Brownies, Salted Chocolate Rye Brownies
- Sourdough Croissants
- Rhubarb Curd Tarts with Buckwheat Sable
- Pecan Butter Tarts
- Kamut & Nut Cookies
- Live-Cultured Tri-Coloured Kraut
- Pickled Jalapenos
- Seville Orange Marmalade
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.