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.
Like many people, I struggle to find my place in the world. I am, at time, my own worst enemy and fiercest critic. But I also am most my loyal comforter, my own soul sister.
As I mature, I learn. That's pretty much what I have always done and I see no reason to ever alter that pattern. Why would I want to go to cheese making school? To learn, of course! There is only so much I can soak in from Youtube, Google, Chapters, and the library and I learn by watching, listening, doing, and most importantly - sharing. We all have our limitations to what looks, smells, sounds, and tastes like good food.
But perhaps it's time to do something different.
Although not religious, I do believe spirituality is an essential element in a healthy life and very personal choice. Kind of like food is. You are what you eat. A healthy gut is a happy gut.
It may be a new year, but 2014 feels very different. Like a door is closing behind me, gently; a well lit, untrampled green lies ahead. There is no defined path, but it is lined with friendly, familiar faces. Faces of those who have taught, inspired, and guided me. Supportive, influential, positive.
I owe it to them as much as to my self to succeed. Whatever that means.
Let's eat, shall we?
My contract working in the west end of the county ended in December which freed up some time to make a long overdue trip to visit one of my older brothers and his family (I think it's safe to say they are my family too). I brought along my sourdough starter and the Tartine Bread cookbook and although my family thought I was odd for traveling with a yeasty-smelling container of bubbling flour and dough, they did appreciate the flaky, buttery croissants it helped leaven. Sourdough doesn't have to be sour.
Still working from Tartine Bread, I was able to bake some English muffins as well. I've made English muffins many times with commercial yeast, but using the starter and fermenting the dough overnight produced an incredible tasting muffin complete with random sized bubbles just waiting to be filled with melted butter or oozing egg yolk. You don't get that kind of flavour with dough that has only been proving for an hour and a half. My only trouble was I didn't bring rice flour which helps prevent the wet dough from sticking to the cloth while it rises.
Now this, this is what I think is the green path that lies before me. In this picture are three cheeses, cabecou (made by moi), le cendrillon (from Montreal), and a soft-ripened cheese from Monforte Dairy in Stratford. The bread is slices of toasted corn & spelt baguette. Using locally milled flours from both HOPE Eco Farms east of Aylmer and Arva Flour Mills north of London, I attempted a recipe from Tartine 3. Tartine 3 is a cookbook written by the same chef as Tartine Bread, but the chef focuses on using whole grains and flours, much of them ancient or heirloom varieties, to produce bread and pastry with more nutritional benefits and most importantly - deeper flavours.
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.