Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Morning Community

One thing I love about living in Summerside is the Farmer's Market on Spring Street.  It is always bustling with friendly faces, happy people perusing the local wares of their friends and neighbours.  There are delicious foods to sample, fresh, in-season veggies, preserves, crafts, free-range, pastured meats and natural body care products.  And until I get approval for my laying hens, it is our source of farm-fresh eggs, which are from much happier hens, bigger, and more delicious than the brown eggs you can get in the grocery store and they are less expensive too.

The market is a place where children can play and meet up with friends in the designated play area, where you can chat with your MLA while in line for coffee, where the free-range pork guy will give you pepperoni samples while wearing a pig hat and showing videos of his happy, woodland foraging pigs.  It's a place where you can try new foods, learn about raising bees, and meet up with old acquaintances from university, forging new friendships (I mean you Pam!).  It is really one of my two favourite places to go in Summerside.

I thought for a quick Saturday blog post, I'd post some photos of the market.  Forgive the quality of these photos, I was furtively snapping them as I walked with a less-than-stellar camera, trying not to bug anyone by taking photos without permission.  I promise I will try to learn more about photography and borrow my sister's camera for future posts!

And here I am, dressed in my Saturday best (!) with my afore-mentioned eggs.  I would have picked up at least some greens, if not more tasty items, but I only brought enough change for a dozen eggs!
This post is shared with Blog Hop #56 at The Prairie Homestead.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Seed Starting

Today James and I started seeds.  Since this is my first year delving into vegetable gardening, I didn't want to buy too many seeds until I get a better handle on starting and transplanting them.  As a result, I only got a few packages and the majority can be direct-sown later on in the spring.  But I wanted to get a jump on a few, and so we started with a few different seeds today.

Two years ago my dad and I were going to plant a garden at my parents' cottage, but we didn't end up doing it.  I did, however, buy about $50.00 worth of seeds to plant in the garden-that-wasn't.  So since I still had them, I thought I'd try planting a few this year in order to save on seed and seedling purchasing expenses.  Unfortunately, they weren't stored with any particular care or concern; they were left in a shoebox in our basement laundry room.  It is cool down there, but I don't know if it was cool enough to keep them viable!  To be honest, I don't know how seeds should be stored (I haven't had to store any yet so I have yet to research it!).  So many of these might not actually germinate, but hopefully by starting them early enough I will figure out which ones won't work and I'll just replace those later on.  There's no harm in giving it a shot!

Checking out the packages to decide what he'd like to plant.
As you can see, we have been saving toilet paper rolls and then cutting them in half for planting.  I wanted to use something that we already had that would have been thrown in compost (for Waste Watch, I don't have a compost pile yet) and that would be biodegradable, so that each seedling could be planted as it is in its "pot".  James found the process of filling the rolls up with seed starting mix by using a spoon to be "boring".  He was excited to get started planting.

A little too bright, but I wanted to include his little hand planting the seeds.

We started with organic San Marzano tomato seeds.  These were one of the packages that I bought two years ago, but I really hope that they do germinate and grow fairly successfully.  We were generous with how many seeds we put in each roll so even if the germination rate is lower, as long as some do germinate, we should be ok.  After we planted the tomato seeds, my young assistant's enthusiasm waned.  I guess that's about what you can expect from a three-year-old who has to listen to at least a couple of instructions from his mother.

After that we planted sweet basil, and early sugar pie pumpkin seeds.  The basil was also an old package but the pumpkin is new.  I am also going to plant another sugar pumpkin variety that a friend gave me after saving her seeds last year.

I didn't really think ahead about this, I just decided to do it today while Sus was napping.  So I didn't really have anything to stick in the pots as labels.  I am actually confident that I can tell the difference between pumpkin, tomato, and basil seedlings (as those are all we planted today), but just to be on the safe side, I figured we should whip up some sort of labelling system.

 Our "labelled" seedlings
I grabbed a container of toothpicks and three different coloured permanent markers and set to work.  Red is tomatoes, green for basil, and black (the leftover colour) is for pumpkins.  James perked up a little bit when we got to this step, he loved putting the tomato labels in but wasn't as excited about basil and pumpkin until he decided that I was doing it wrong and he had better take over for the sake of the seedlings.

I have been reading blog post after blog post of seed starting tips lately so hopefully some of it will stick and I'll be able to raise something successfully!  We are definitely not going to be dependent on our garden this year, but I like to hope that with a few years' practice, I'll eventually be able to supply our family with a large proportion of our produce needs!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Montreal Style Bagels

Disclaimer: These bagels are made with unbleached (but still refined) white flour.

Now I revere whole grain goodness as much as the next earthy-granola-conservationist-farm-friendly mamma, but I also like to live a little.  Perhaps there will come a day when a 100% whole wheat bagel will tempt my tastebuds the way a delicious Montreal-style bagel will, but that time is not now.  And I rarely make them, so I don't feel in the least guilty enjoying one once in a while.

If you are daring enough to rebel against the whole grain train every now and then, this is a recipe that you should definitely have in your collection.  If you already make Montreal-style bagels at home and your recipe is better than this one, please share it!  The closer I can get to that true epitome of deliciousness, the better!

Why Montreal?  Only because they are the most beautiful bagels in the world.  Granted, I have not eaten a New York bagel before but in this photo comparison I found on Google recently, I don't know if I need to.  It just doesn't look as delicious as the bagels I know.  Rustic, asymmetrical, chewy, delectable perfection.

Which would you rather eat?  I thought so.
My first experience with this carbohydrate ecstasy came to pass when I was in high school and went to visit my older sister who was living in Montreal at the time.  After one bite, I knew I could never go back to bagels as I knew them.  This was a sweeter, chewier, heartier, more grown up, "old-world" tasting thing of beauty that shouldn't have been in the same category as the bagels that I had previously eaten.

Craig took this picture the last time we were in Montreal and loaded up on bagels our last day in the city to bring home to share!
Delicious Fairmount bagel.

Unfortunately, the only place to get them fresh (that I know of) is in Montreal.  You can buy them (previously frozen, I think) here on PEI in an awesome little corner store called the Brighton Clover Farm, and the Charlottetown Farmers Market sells them as well.  That's all well and good, but they're less fresh and more expensive that way.  And I don't live in Charlottetown.  So a couple of years ago, I went in search of a recipe that would come close to imitating them in my kitchen.

It's not perfect, but unless you have Fairmount or St. Viateur bakeries down the street from where you live, it's the next best thing, and certainly much better then anything you'd buy in a store!

Montreal Style Bagels

1 1/2 cups warm (but not too hot) water
5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 package active dry yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 small egg; beaten
1 tablespoon malt syrup*

4 1/2 cups (or so) unbleached flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

6 quarts water
1/3 cup honey

1/2 cup poppy seeds or sesame seeds

In a large bowl, stir together the warm water, sugar, canola oil, yeast (not instant), egg and malt. Keep combining until the yeast dissolves. Then stir in salt and one cup of the flour. Gently add enough flour to make a soft dough, about 3 cups.  Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for 10-12 minutes, adding extra flour as you need it. When your dough is firm and smooth, cover with inverted bowl and let sit 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. Roll each piece into a 10 inch rope, then curve each one pressing together ends to make a bagel shape. You may need to use a few drops of water to help the ends stay together.  Let your bagels rise for 30 minutes, perhaps longer if the temperature of your kitchen is a little on the cool side (like mine always is!).

While your dough is resting/rising, fill a large pot with the 6 quarts of water, stir in the honey and bring to a boil. Preheat oven to 425 F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. When the honey water has come to a boil, drop the bagels in (three or four at a time), and let boil for 90 seconds, flipping once at 45 seconds.  Don't worry if you can't really flip them, or keep track of flipping them.  I don't always do very well at that step.

Remove the bagels from the pot and pat dry on clean tea towels.  Dip the bagels in bowls of sesame seeds or poppy seeds, flipping them over and generously covering both sides. Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.  Bake at 425 for 8-10 minutes, then flip and bake another 8-10 minutes.  How long you bake them depends on your oven, I followed the original recipe's instructions for 8 minutes the very first time I baked them (picture below, the only picture I have of my bagels was from my first attempt so they aren't very well rolled, and as you can see, a little on the light side).  I prefer them to be a little darker, so I tend to leave them about 10 minutes or so on each side.

Enjoy with whipped cream cheese, tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion and a little smoked salmon!  Or, with cream cheese and blueberry jam!  Or, if you are like my husband, peanut butter.

*I use Eden Organic Barley Malt syrup.  I bought it at the Bulk Barn; you can also use malt drink powder--either should be available in a health food store.

Note the light colour and less-than-professional rolling--they still turned out delicious, and I have since improved my bagel making skills!
This post is shared with the Homestead Barn Hop #55 at The Prairie Homestead.

Monday, March 26, 2012

10 Tips for Seasonal, Local Eating

I really love the local food movement.  I want to support farmers and other producers in my community.  I want to see small farms thrive.  I want to reduce the distance my food must travel in order to end up on my plate.  I want to buy food that is grown in such a way as to minimize disturbance to natural systems.  And, despite not being overly fond of vegetables as a child, I am quite excited about them these days.  I want to challenge myself to come up with imaginative ways to use fresh, in-season produce.  However, up until today, I haven't really been a very committed locavore.

Today, after church, I stopped in at the grocery store because we were out of milk and fresh produce.  When I got home and unpacked the fruit and vegetables that I picked up, this is what my counter looked like:

Not one of these fruits pictured above is in season on Prince Edward Island in March.  And only half of these can even be produced on PEI period!  (Even at that, it's not like cantaloupe melons are prolific on our fair isle-our growing season really isn't warm enough or long enough!)

I looked at my counter, and I felt guilty about what I was seeing.  Yes, I had pretty good reasons for buying these items: I wanted all of us to have a range of healthy, colourful foods to eat, and I wanted to buy fruit and vegetables that I knew my children would eat (particularly James, who is pretty fussy when it comes to "real food").  What's in season around here right now?  Carrots, turnips, parsnips, cabbage and potatoes.  Out of that bunch, James likes carrots and potatoes.  Which pretty much form the basis of his diet in terms of vegetable matter for the last few months.

It's easy for us to find a huge diversity of local foods in the summer and early fall, but what about the winter and early spring?

After I tweeted this picture, my darling friend Jackie of Educating Jackie and I started up a bit of a conversation about it (note my thumb-error in the first tweet!):

So yeah, maybe a little unrealistic to think we'll some day grow bananas and avocados on PEI.  So what am I to do, exactly?

Well, after a combination of a little thought and a little research, I've come up with a number of tips for getting myself on the locavore straight-and-narrow:

  1. Make a list of the foods you eat regularly, and determine where they are coming from.  It's so easy to see a recipe online that you want to try and pick up exotic ingredients for it, or to fall into habits that require buying out-of-season produce (like my tomato sandwich addiction that has been a huge part of my life since childhood!).  It's possible you don't even realize how much food you're eating that is coming from far-away locales.
  2. Now make a list of the foods that are locally available during the winter season.  You might be surprised what really is available to you in the winter.  Even in our cold, snowy, Canadian climes there are options of vegetables and fruits with long-term storage capabilities.  Figuring out what is available from local producers and planning your meals around these items will help before you even pick them up.
  3. Sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box.  By picking up a veggie box from a nearby organic grower throughout the year, and not just in the summer and fall, you'll not only be supporting sustainable farming in your area during the off-season, but you'll be pretty much forced to be creative with what you get.  If half of your box is full of turnip, you'll be googling recipes and finding out ways to use turnip that you never knew existed!  The CSA box that I used to get (until Sus was born and I ended up wasting veggies that weren't being properly appreciated and cooked due to sleep deprivation) included recipes every week to give you ideas on how to use what was in the box.
  4. Be proactive in the summer and fall.  Grow (or purchase locally grown) extra veggies in the summer and fall when the getting (and variety!) is good, and can, freeze, or dehydrate your bounty so that you can have tastes of the growing season all year long.
  5. Use a cold frame.  A cold frame is a simple box with a slanted, transparent lid to go over your plants and protect them late into the season.  This is a great way to get more from your veggie garden in climates like ours!  Directions on how to make one can be found here.
  6. Mulch.  Mulching cold weather vegetables, especially root vegetables, can leave you with a little wiggle room for harvesting fresh veggies a little later on without quite as much need for storage.
  7. Get creative. I've heard that most people eat the same 20 or so foods prepared the same way for the majority of their diet.  By changing habits a little bit here and a little bit there, we can definitely find new ways to eat the standby winter produce in ways we haven't experienced before.
  8. Look up old recipes.  There's no doubt that we are becoming more cosmopolitan in our dining and many of us rush out to buy new cookbooks that teach us how to cook with exotic specialty items.  It's part of living in a beautiful multicultural society.  However, when we want to rely on seasonal, local fare, these new cookbooks aren't quite so helpful.  But I bet a number of you can get your hands on your grandmothers' cookbooks!  In older recipe books, there are more traditional ways of preparing food that utilize what was on hand during that time.  And many of us have moved away from classic favourites.  Maybe it's time to revisit them!
  9. Participate in food tourism and promotion where you live.  Food is becoming a super important part of tourism here on PEI.  With events like PEI Flavours, WinterDine, Farm Day in the City, and a growing emphasis on farmers markets and farm gate sales, not only do we have access to great local produce but to the delicious works of innovative chefs who want to cook with what they can get their hands on here, and now.
  10. Don't go crazy trying!  It's a bit daunting to try to figure out a whole new menu plan for your family based on what is grown and raised near you.  Maybe start out with one or two family meals a week that feature only local, seasonal foods.  See how that goes, and then perhaps as you become more accustomed to it, it will become old hat.  Nobody is saying that eating a banana or pineapple in Canada is some sort of cardinal sin!  It's just time to become more aware of where the food we eat comes from, consider the hands that sowed, nourished, grew, and harvested it, and appreciate that entire process.
I'll keep you posted on how this path works out for me!  Please share any suggestions (or especially recipes!) if you have any.


I'd like to thank Kristen of Living The Rustic Life for presenting me with the Liebster Blog Award.  It's so lovely to think that someone who has read some of my posts would think it worthy of recognition.  I really appreciate it!  Receiving the award coincided with achieving my goal of 25 followers on my blog, which I hoped to reach by the summer.  So yay!

This post is shared with Homestead Barn Hope #55 at Homestead Revival.