Staycation

Evidently the term “staycation“, was originally coined by Canadian comedian Brent Butt in the television show Corner Gas, in the episode “Mail Fraud”, which first aired October 24, 2005. Of all the things that we can call Canadian, a staycation is probably one of the better examples. We are living at home, venturing out for the day, not too far away, enjoying our local communities, but not too lavishly.

Yesterday was a Vancouver Whitecaps game at BC Place. So much of that is an adventure in itself. The venue is amazing, the stadium seats 60,000 people and has a retractable roof, which was open. While the MLS has 19 teams, 3 of which are in Canada, we don’t sell out our stadium. But none the less, it is a good time for young soccer players from Alberta who don’t have a professional team.

Today is a double-header, outdoor go karting in Richmond for the boys and our local beach for the girls. We meet up on East Beach in White Rock for low tide this afternoon for skim boarding. This is a chance for my son to show off a bit. He has completed a camp earlier this summer and has been practising with an extreme amount of dedication. He really hopes to become a professional skim boarder and earn a living doing that. We have tried to gently tell him that may not be possible. He is 12, on the cusp of still being a child, easing into a tween and soon to become a young man.

On the docket for the rest of the week is:

  • Stanley Park & the aquarium
  • Salmon fishing charter
  • Cultus Lake water slides
  • Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver, (I have never been there!)

If it were not for a staycation, I wouldn’t have experienced Vancouver as much as I have.

Vancouver-stanley-park

Doing the right thing

When I was a kid, I thought I had a good idea about what it meant to do the right thing. When you are a child the world is black and white, full of absolutes. Then as we grow older, there are shades of grey. At least that is how it has happened for me.

I have so many things that I would like to pay attention to, it becomes hard to prioritize. Take grocery shopping for example. Should the food be:

  • organic
  • fresh, (not frozen or canned)
  • local
  • within my budget

If I focus on all 4 of these criteria, grocery shopping would be an impossible task. Life is about compromise. So I have to decide which of these 2 are going to be my main target. Usually fresh and budget win out and if I can add either of the other 2 it is a bonus.

When I discover a tool that lends me a helping hand I get pretty excited. Someone, or even groups of people have done all the legwork to make my life easier. Here are a few that come to mind:

Eat for Healthy Oceans

The David Suzuki Foundation has created this page and included videos, recipes and information about sustainability.

From the book Beneath Cold Seas: the Underwater Wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, © 2011, text and photography by David Hall.

From the book Beneath Cold Seas: the Underwater Wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, © 2011, text and photography by David Hall.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

The author and her family take you on a year of living sustainably. The book is full of inspiration, techniques and guidance. Take as little or as much as you like. This poster shows you what is fresh, during which month of the year.

avm-poster

Eat Local – British Columbia, Canada

Edible Communities

These wonderful magazines are an inspiration of content, beautiful photography and rich resources. Seek them out if they are available for your city.

Canadian Organic Growers

Vancouver Farmer’s Markets

Local goodies

Recently, I stopped by a local cheese shop and brought home some Poplar Grove Cheese. Along with that, I picked up some Ace Bakery crisps. A wine from Summerhill and I had a nice little snack, all made in Canada.

It is interesting to look around your grocery store, and even farther flung to nearby specialty shops, and source local ingredients and products. Local folks putting their hard work on display, if we just cast an eye to something new.

It is too easy to quickly grab the brand of cheese with the most prominent display. Choose a wine from 3,000 miles (or more away) and crackers – who can tell the difference anyway?

Wouldn’t it be nice if local farmers, artisans and producers got a slight home team advantage? A sign that displays the local flag? Shouldn’t we know who are neighbours are?

Well in this little sampling, we did. And it tasted great.

Others writing about local food:

Harvest

And so it begins, or ends, depending on how you look at it. After all the hard work of planting, tending, weeding and watering the harvest begins to roll in. Thankfully, not all at once, for the work is not yet over. Now the washing, cooking and processing phase.

From my garden, the figs, potatoes and apples. Just a few apples that fell to the ground, not great to look at, so I made a pie.

Everything else is local to Mary’s Garden or out to the Okanagan. Not exactly a 100 mile diet, but much better than bringing all this up from California and Mexico. (I realize that coffee is not grown there, but Hazelmere Organic Coffee processes the beans, just down the road from us.)

As you can see from the quantity, I got a little carried away in my buying. This all has to be eaten as is or turned into something or otherwise put up for storage. Most of this cannot keep for long. This weekend will be busy.

Garlic, how wonderful does this look? Compare that to the stuff that comes all the way from China!

Back in March I planted these potatoes. Just the fingerlings. The purple ones produce seed and spread out further through the garden every year.

My fig tree, started out as a baby, maybe 4 feet tall. Now she has spread out across the whole side of the house casting an impressive amount of shade with her floppy big leaves. The fruit is 2 inches across, massive in size when compared with commercially produced varieties.

This is the best time of year to be a gardener and to live in a part of the world with a nice long season.

Farm Fresh

It started by picking up the “complimentary” Farm Fresh reference guide. This is a gem of information. Fresh BC grown farm products indexed by city, listing each provider and a little bio along with all other contact details you would need. I have been wanting to create a list like this. Here it is done for me, 80 businesses strong. One of my goals for this year – done.

Does it really matter that much to buy local? (You might ask). Inside this handy guide was an article by “Get Local“, which is a public program to educate consumers about the benefits of eating locally, where to find local food, and how to adopt a diet consisting of more local food products.

I thought it was interesting to note that in 1947, BC grew 97% of its food. Yet in the past 65 years, farmland has decreased and more food is imported. In the next 5 years, the majority of BC farmers will be at or near retirement age. If you buy local, not only are you supporting our BC farmers, but your food is not “soaked” in the petroleum that would otherwise be required to transport it to you. (Think about grapes from Peru!)

Get local creates a handy seasonal chart to remind us, (what our parents and grandparents knew instinctively), which foods are in season here in South Western BC. If you live here, use this handy guide. If not, find one for your area. Mine is being printed now and is going on the fridge.

Not only does it make logical sense to eat food when it is in season, but it tastes so much better. When I tasted a peach, picked from the tree at the height of freshness, so juicy you needed a bib to protect your clothes from the juice that spills forth, it was heaven. Up to that point, at 30 years of age, I thought I didn’t like peaches. Can you imagine?

Tonight I stopped in to pick up my wine of the month. (Only a one bottle commitment, but I like to fill my reusable bag that holds 6). This is a club I joined at my local “Swirl” wine store that sells only BC VQA wine. Can you imagine that there would be enough to choose from to warrant an entire store? In fact they showcase over 90 different wineries that total over 600 different wines. That is not even all BC has to offer, just the participants in the VQA program.

With my bottle every month, there is a sheet of information explaining more about the wine, tasting notes, etc. This month there was an extra treat – Summer 2012 of Edible Vancouver. I am only a few pages in and already so inspired. Unlike most publications, I have to turn off my ability to scan over advertising. I want to read every line on every page.

There on page 1 was an advertisement for “Whole Foods Market”. That is an interesting coincidence. There are several locations in Vancouver, but nothing out here where I live, (in the country, near the farms). My Father had just sent me an email on the weekend from Scottsdale, where he had discovered this store. He was impressed enough to send me the note that it might become his new favourite.

Maybe it is the time of year, new growth, warmer temperatures, restless kids, but it seems like connecting to the local food scene is a good thing. (As Martha Stewart likes to say). Maybe the universe conspires to help you when you turn your attention to something. (Paraphrase from “The Alchemist”). Whatever the reason, supporting the local farmers in their business to provide fresh products, feels great. Maybe someone controlling the weather can turn up the heat and down the rain, just a bit.

Rhubarb

Today at Mary’s Garden, I bought some lovely local produce. A whole lot of rhubarb, 3 kinds of beets, kohlrabi, butter lettuce and radishes. (I can’t wait to see what is at the White Rock farmer’s market tomorrow.)

I generally know what to do with rhubarb, but a quick google search shows that rhubarb has a lot of fans, blogs and websites devoted to it.

Rhubarb central – this is where I used the instructions for freezing it. I got 3 ziploc bags with 4 cups each.

The Rhubarb Compendium – this is where I grabbed a couple of recipes for compote, I made 2.

No search is complete without a look at what Wikipedia has to say. It turns out that rhubarb has been used for thousands of years by the Chinese. In our Western Gardens, the first harvest of rhubarb is spring delight.

Some people like rhubarb so much, they prepared a cookbook of 40 different recipes, (My Aunt) and bestowed as a gift for a 40th birthday party, (to my Father). Back in the olden days on the farm, rhubarb must have been a lovely treat.

Although it is early June now, we have had so much rain and cool weather, it seems the rhubarb is hanging on. Which is fine for me. I only have so much time to devote to preparing food for storage. (My regular life takes up most of my waking hours.)

Today, I had a window of opportunity. I should be out in the garden pulling weeds and planting more seeds. That will have to wait until tomorrow.

Now what to do with kohlrabi?

Too much

Tuesday night I saw a movie called “Forks Over Knives”. I am not one to blindly accept what I see on TV, but if the facts being presented in this movie are true, (I will research more to determine my thoughts on that), then my family and I need to examine our intake of animal protein and processed foods.

My husband likes to point out that humans are omnivores. We are meant to eat both plants and animals, but the actual definition of the word is more than that.

Omnivores (from Latin: omni, meaning “all, everything”; vorare, “to devour”) are species that eat both plants and animal material as their primary food source. They often are opportunistic, general feeders not specifically adapted to eating and digesting either meat or plant material primarily. Many depend on a suitable mix of animal and plant food for long-term good health and reproduction.

Opportunistic is a word I like here. To me that means variety. We are not meant to eat either plants or animals primarily. Now let’s look at the definition of whole foods:

Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed. Whole foods typically do not contain added ingredients, such as salt, carbohydrates, or fat. Examples of whole foods include unpolished grains, beans, fruits, vegetables and non-homogenized dairy products. Originally all human food was whole food.

If you ask our collective common sense, and seek the wisdom of our ancestors, the answer will surely be that the current Western diet has way too much processed food and way too many animal products. So, if you want to link our current health problems to this highly processed, high animal protein diet, I can’t imagine too many people would disagree.

But we are really talking about too much. Do we need to eliminate animal products completely, if their consumption provides a sense of joy and happiness? Or should we limit the total quantity?

Should we eliminate all processed food? (I personally think yes), but that is not realistic either. It is not possible for the most wonderful tasting French croissant to be made without a great deal of high fat content butter and refined flour. Occasionally, a warm bakery treat is pure joy.

So why do we collectively find it so difficult to limit ourselves? In the movie, Dr. Douglas Lisle’s research and conclusions were presented:

The Motivational Triad: the pursuit of pleasure; the avoidance of pain; and the conservation of energy. Unfortunately, in present day America’s convenience-centric, excess-oriented culture where fast food, recreational drugs, and sedentary shopping have become the norm, these basic instincts that once successfully insured the survival and reproduction of man many millennia ago, no longer serve us well.  In fact, it’s our unknowing enslavement to this internal, biological force embedded in the collective memory of our species that is undermining our health and happiness today.

The movie explains this hard-wired concept further by showing pictures of a human stomach and the receptors that tell our brain “I am full”.

  1. With a large, (volume) meal of plant-based whole food that is say 900 calories, the stomach is full and all the receptors communicate that to the brain.
  2. But if you change the meal to be more than half of the calories to be animal protein, (a typical meal) the stomach will not be full and the signal will be a feeling of dissatisfaction.
  3. If you consumed 900 calories of pure fat, the stomach would be so empty it would feel like you only drank a glass of water. (We all know how drinking a glass of water does very little to make us feel full, despite what our mothers told us.)

The solution then, is amazingly simple. Go back to the Canada Food Guide if you need a reminder. For women aged 19 to 50 it recommends servings per day:

  • Vegetables & Fruit – 7 to 8
  • Grain – 6 to 7
  • Milk and alternatives – 2
  • Meat and alternatives – 2, (a serving of meat is considered 2.5 ounces or 125 ml)
  • 30 – 45 mL (2 to 3 Tbsp) of unsaturated oils and fats

If you eat one restaurant meal per day, you would be eating far more than your allowable meat and fat content for the whole day, in one sitting. It is safe to say that most of us are eating too much of the stuff we should be limiting and not nearly enough of the good stuff.

It helps every now and then to say these things out loud.

Ultimate brew

In my travels, when I find the time of day to be – first thing in the morning, I enjoy a cup of coffee. When I take that first sip, I compare it to my standard brew at home. And it never really stacks up.

We don’t do anything super special at home. Wait a minute, as I write this, we do practice a few special rituals.

We have a conical burr grinder which is evidently the best of home grinders. We had to move up to this model because all the other kinds burned out after a few months of use. The process of squeezing and crushing the beans releases the coffee’s oils, which are then more easily extracted during the infusion process with hot water, making the coffee taste richer and smoother.

I buy “shade-grown” coffee. Here is why:

A canopy of assorted types of shade trees is created to cultivate shade-grown coffee. The traditional shade-grown coffee farm resembles a forest because it consists of several layers of trees, such as fruit and hardwood trees, epiphytes, and other assorted bushes and plants. As a result, up to 40 species of trees can be found on these farms, and contribute to the maintenance of soil quality and habitats for numerous species of animals and plants. One of the main arguments in support of shade-grown coffee is that it houses many species of birds. More specifically, shade-grown trees house two-thirds of the bird species found in natural forests in the same geographic areas.
Sun-grown coffee requires numerous chemical fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides to be added to promote growth. This also contributes to toxic water runoff and lack of habitat for many species. In contrast to the previous information regarding birds, sun-grown coffee provides shelter for less than one-tenth of bird species. –Wikipedia

Finding this type of coffee is not as easy as you would think. The following coffee brand references are Canadian companies that buy beans responsibly, transport to Canada and roast.

And that brings me to the ultimate brew.

Kicking Horse Coffee is located in Invermere, B.C. I had the pleasure of stopping in there last week for a perfectly brewed cup of coffee in a Japanese Hario Syphon. It is a rather complicated procedure and takes time to “learn” the art of using the device. But, as my Dad said, “it would be great for a dinner party”.

The coffee was sublime. It was the first cup that was, not only better than what we make at home, but the best cup I have ever tasted.

kickinghorsecoffee.com

Roof top patio

There is only one in White Rock. That is both a shame and a blessing. When you get a seat on it, you are happy, when you don’t….well that is not much of a blog post, is it?

The lone patio belongs to The Boat House. My history and this particular restaurant go back all the way to early 1991. My first solo trip to the Coast by airplane. Along with my soon to be room-mate, we were spending a week trying to decide where to finish our Fashion degree. West or East? Since West was closest and cheapest, we were really banking on that trip hitting pay dirt. During our week of R&R escape from -35 degrees C on the Prairies, we made our way out to The Boat House in White Rock for lunch.

What a couple of hillbillies. We were taking photo’s of baked camembert! But we loved it out here. The day in question was completely socked in and drizzly rain. We were hooked anyway.

Fast forward to a summer evening in late August 2011. A mere 20 years later. My husband and I have a free night to take a leisurely meal of oysters, ahi taco’s, prawns and a bucket of steamers. Back in 1991, I would not have even known what most of that was!

As the sun was setting, and we made our way back to our truck, it was a nice feeling to think that we have been a part of this community for the better part of 20 years.

Live Theatre

“Downtown Vancouver is so exotic”  ~10 year old boy

Well I guess that is your perspective when you have been living at the cabin for a month. I thought it was a bit much, but then driving down Granville Street, there are sights that I sure don’t see everyday. Mostly the people, much different from my suburban ‘hood.

We made a trip into the heart of Vancouver’s Stanley Park last night to watch the closing night of Bye, Bye, Birdie. It was a Theatre Under The Stars production at Malkin Bowl. This is just the latest in a string of productions that we have attended as a family. For us there is a sort of pomp and circumstance involved. We usually get to drive to another part of the city, eat out, (which the kids never seem to tire of), stay up late and let your imagination roam. The last bit is what I like the most. It is a different experience than a Hollywood movie.

We started to attend live theatre as soon as the kids were reasonably old enough. It was a Christmas production of Peter Pan and my daughter was probably 4 and my son 6. We had front row balcony seats in a Calgary Theatre very much the same shape as the Globe Theatre in London. If they could make it through at that age, I knew we could continue to develop our repertoire of viewings.

Since that early show, we have tried to attend something twice per year – a summer and Christmas presentation. (I even snuck in the ballet last Christmas!) Beyond my own enjoyment, I sneak peaks at my babies throughout and take little mental snap shots of them. It is amazing to watch their multitude of expressions. Later, I always try to find out what those stares might have meant, but the moments are always very fleeting.

Fresh: the movie

Every now and then a movie, or a book or a news report comes along and just rocks you. I have watched this movie twice and I keep it active on my iPad, just in case. It is one of those pieces of work that seems to have been made just for me.

Instead of a movie with complete shock value of how bad the world is, there are examples of everyday people making the world better. Really inspiring stuff.

The director of the film, Ana Joanes has a list of 10 easy ways that you can live a more sustainable lifestyle!

  1. Buy local products when possible, otherwise, buy organic and fair-trade products. Ask your grocer or favorite restaurant what local food they carry and try to influence their purchasing decisions. You will support your local economy and small farmers, reduce your exposure to harmful pesticides, improve the taste and quality of your food, and protect the environment from fertilizer and pesticide run-offs.
  2. Shop at your local farmers market, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and get weekly deliveries of the season’s harvest, and by buy from local grocers and co-ops committed to stocking local foods.
  3. Support restaurants and food vendors that buy locally produced food. When at a restaurant, ask (nicely!) your waiter where the meat and fish comes from. Eventually, as more and more customers ask the same question, they’ll get the message!
  4. Avoid GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)! When buying processed food (anything packaged) buy organic to avoid GMO. (Since almost all the soy, corn, and canola in the US is genetically modified, over 70% of all processed food contain GMOs from by-products of these grains.)
  5. COOK, CAN, DRY & FREEZE! Our culture has forgotten some of the most basic joys of cooking. Not only is cooking at home better for you and more economical, but it’s an invaluable skill to pass on to your children.
  6. Drink plenty of water, but avoid bottled water when you can. Water bottles pollute the environment and bottled water is often mere tap water. Plastic is harmful to your health and to the environment. Buy a reusable water bottle and invest in a good water filter.
  7. Grow a garden, visit a farm, volunteer in your community garden, teach a child how to garden. GET DIRTY! Have fun!
  8. Volunteer and/or financially support an organization dedicated to promoting a sustainable food system. Stay informed by joining the mailing list of the advocacy groups you trust.
  9. Get involved in your community! Influence what your child eats by engaging the school board, effect city policies by learning about zoning and attending city council meetings, learn about the federal policies that affect your food choice and let your congress person know what you think.
  10. SHARE your passion! Talk to your friends and family about why our food choice matters.
Fresh: The Movie – check out the trailer.

The season

I love the multi city series of monthly magazines, (that is a mouthful!) called Edible (X) City. In my case it is Edible Vancouver.  It is an award-wining magazine that celebrates local food, season by season.

Edible Communities Publications.

I try, whenever possible to eat local, which means eating in season. Some days in the winter, the selection of produce in a typical grocery store just makes a person only want to eat from a box. It can be the most sorry-looking vegetables ever. But knowing where to find the good local stuff all year-long can very challenging to say the least.

These publications give you a beautiful looking source book about where to buy the great seasonal and local products and give you mouth-watering pictures and recipes to boot. Who knew that braised cabbage and apples could look so good?

I know what you are thinking….I really have a hankering for Insalata Caprese – those lovely combinations of big beautiful beefsteak tomatoes, lovely fragrant basil and fresh mozzarella with just a tough of extra virgin olive oil. In the middle of winter in North America – are you kidding me? Don’t do it. If you don’t believe me, check out this link written by an Italian.

I was down in the Baja in November and had the pleasure of eating at a restaurant called ‘Cynthia Fresh’, (anyone going to San Jose Del Cabo must go there, but I digress). When we ordered one night, one of the dishes she could not complete as described because the avocados “were not nice today”, fantastic! Instead of giving us an inferior dish she changed it slightly so that it was as fresh as her name sake restaurant.

It is one of the most amazing pleasures in life – good food, good friends and loved family, gathering around a table to enjoy!

-CW