Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Counting Down - TOAD IN THE HOLE

There is green in my garden! The snow is slowly melting, exposing a small patch of damp, dark earth where, last October, I planted two short rows of seeds. Today, I can distinctly see two rows of tiny green shoots. I can’t remember exactly what’s there, but I think it’s a mixture of radish, lettuce and arugula.

This is exciting, because it means I'm one step closer to starting a new culinary adventure I'm calling "Home for Dinner." For one year, I'm going to cook almost exclusively with the foods of Saskatchewan, eating what’s in season and preserving the bounty for winter months. I plan to start the first day I eat something green out of my garden.

"Home for Dinner" is not just about Saskatchewan. It’s a philosophy and a lifestyle that can be embraced no matter where you live. If I can do it in Saskatchewan, you can do it anywhere! Here are some good reasons to be "Home for Dinner" no matter where you call home:

Tastier food – Local produce is usually picked just before it’s sold, so it’s fresher and more flavourful. Local farmers who aren’t mass producing for a distant market are more likely to care about the quality and flavour of their food.

Healthier food – Local produce is less likely to have been treated with preservation and ripening agents. If you shop for food produced with organic principles, you will be exposed to fewer chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Environmentally friendly food – Think of all the fuel that is used to truck lettuce from Mexico and bananas from Costa Rica. That's a lot of greenhouse gases.

Food for the local economy – Farming is a tough business, especially if you’re small and trying to do something unique on your land. Reward the farmers who are producing good healthy food and keep your food dollars in the local economy.

Tonight we had Toad-in-the-Hole with onion gravy, a dish from England made with Saskatchewan ingredients (adapted from a recipe in Martha Stewart Living). My version includes eggs and sausages from a local farm, rosemary and onions from the farmers’ market, locally-made mustard and a rich chicken stock I made myself.

2 large eggs
2/3 cups milk
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp mustard
1/2 cup flour
2 tbsp butter
6 pork breakfast sausages
1 tbsp fresh rosemary

Whisk everything together but the sausages and rosemary, season with salt & pepper and let sit for 20 minutes. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Pour the batter into the dish, sprinkle with rosemary and arrange the sausages on top. Bake at 400F for 25-30 minutes, until the egg is set. Serve with onion gravy or tomato chutney.

Onion Gravy
3 tbsp butter
2 onions halved and sliced
1 tbsp flour
1 cup chicken stock
dash of Worcestershire sauce

Melt the butter in a large skillet and stir in the onions. Cook on medium heat until the onions are golden. Stir in the flour until completely absorbed by the butter. Add the stock and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer a few minutes until thick. Season with salt and pepper. Serve on Toad-in-the-Hole.

Sources: Bennett farm eggs, sausages from the Saskatoon Farmers' Market; rosemary from a pot in my windowsill.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Signs of Spring

The first day of spring came and went in a snowstorm. My garden is covered in two feet of snow, and on the radio "Highway Travel is Not Advised." It’s the kind of day to stay inside, if at all possible, curled up with a book – preferably a cookbook with pictures of green Italian hillsides.

Last fall, I picked a bucket of sour plums in the Katz' back yard. My husband was building their garage (he helped to build their house the summer before) and Dick invited us to pick his plums. I cut out the pits and boiled them without sugar, and packed the soft fruit into jars.

Dick is from Brooklyn. He saw Jackie Robinson play at Ebbets Field. He came to Saskatoon to teach and here he met his wife, Verna, a M├ętis woman who grew up in a cabin up north. She’s a teacher, too. The day we raised their garage (it’s an old-fashioned timber frame), two dozen people were on hand to help, and when it was done we ate moose stew and drank cold beer in the twilight.

So today, the first day of spring, I thought of those plums. I made a meal of spring rolls and plum sauce, chock full of Saskatchewan carrots and cabbage. The recipe also called for mustard seeds, which grow on my family farm. It was a local meal born in China.

This spring, I will begin an food adventure I call "Home for Dinner" - focussing my attention on healthy, seasonal food straight from the farmers of Saskatchewan. Officially, I’ve decided to begin this food adventure on the first day I eat something green from my garden. At the moment, that day seems a long way off...

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Mediterranean Diet - BASIL ICE CUBES

Saskatchewan is a long way from the Mediterranean Sea, but amazingly, it is not so far on the culinary map. Many aspects of the Mediterranean diet can be created with foods grown in Saskatchewan.

Take, for instance, basil. A few years ago, I asked my mom to grow some basil for me on the farm. I gave her a packet of seeds. I had no idea if basil would grow here, especially in a big farm garden that is never watered. Could the darling of Mediterranean herbs fend for itself in Saskatchewan?

Mom called one day in July to say my basil was ready to pick. I drove out to the farm to discover she had not planted a few seeds – but the whole package. There before me was a 40-foot row of basil as tall as my knees and as lush as any basil kissed by the Mediterranean sun. I picked it into garbage bags, gave much away to friends and made a big batch of pesto for myself.

There is, however, one major Mediterranean ingredient I can't get here and I can't live without: olive oil. But as long as the other ingredients are from Saskatchewan, I won't worry about a bit of olive oil on my pasta, in pesto or a salad dressing. No matter how much I may wish it, the olive tree is one Mediterranean treasure that won’t show up in my mother’s garden.

Basil Ice Cubes
In a blender, mix together fresh basil and olive oil to form a paste. It should not be too thick nor too thin, so that you can scoop it with a spoon. Fill the cups of an ice cube tray and freeze. When the basil ice cubes are frozen, pop them into a zip lock bag. Use the basil ice cubes in the middle of winter in pasta sauces, soups and salad dressings – whenever you want a burst of summertime Mediterranean flavour.

Sources: garlic from Saskatoon Farmers' Market; basil from my garden.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

A Food Adventure Close to Home

Were you in Chile this winter? Mexico? California? Chances are, your food was. Most of the fresh food in our grocery stores comes from far away, crossing great distances in order that we might purchase whatever strikes our fancy at any time of year. Asparagus in fall. Strawberries in winter. Lettuce all year long. We take such luxuries for granted – in fact, we’ve forgotten they are luxuries at all.

A study in 1998 determined that produce arriving in Chicago had clocked an average of 1,518 miles or 2,448 kilometres. Since Saskatchewan is quite a bit further north of Chicago, a good number of our fruits and vegetables must travel more than 3,000 kilometres (2,000 miles) from the field to our dinner plates. That’s more well-travelled than most of us eating it!

I don’t want to eat food that was picked unripe, treated with preservatives, handled by numerous middlemen and trucked for days on end down busy freeways. I want to eat local foods, freshly picked in season, delivered by the hand that produced it. I want to buy locally and I want my food dollar to stay in my community.

To that end, I am embarking on a culinary journey that will bring me "Home for Dinner" – in other words, to eat primarily foods that are grown and produced here at home in Saskatchewan. For one year, I will stick faithfully to this local diet. I will find sources of local foods, meet the people producing it and develop recipes that make the most of it.

Here are my "Home for Dinner" rules:
*At least 80 percent of the food on my dinner table will be from Saskatchewan.
* I will eat in season when the foods are fresh, or I will preserve them for another day.
* I may purchase "imported" ingredients for recipes as long as there is no Saskatchewan equivalent, such as parmesan and cinnamon.
* I will grow my own food, or buy it direct from other producers.
* I will buy organic whenever possible.
* I will write about the experience and share it with others who want to bring their own families "Home for Dinner".

Come with me on this journey. You don’t need to adopt my rules – just try a Saskatchewan meal every now and then. And if you don’t live in Saskatchewan, you can resolve to be "Home for Dinner" wherever you call home.