Tuesday, May 20, 2008

grow your own

There's been a lot of kerfuffle in the media lately about how people are all of a sudden all keen on growing their own veg - the "100 metre diet". har. Nobody in these parts is subsisting on what their gardens provide, I'm thinking - it's more like the "100 metre condiments", because for many people veg is just side-dishes and salads. If you get lots of tomatoes, they're ketchup. (I actually made ketchup last week, and it turned out sort of meh, but I got a couple litres of it out of a $15 box of (local!) tomatoes. It tastes a little too much like Christmas. I think I had the spices off a bit - hardly surprising because I was out of cheesecloth so I used Stirling's tea stick for the spice "bundle".)

I digress. The point to this post was to say, yes, growing your own veg is all good but it's not really going to do much in the way of making your diet more local since let's face it, vegetables do NOT make up the majority of most folks' diets.

That having been said, I've got my garden going, and this year I'm foregoing the lush floral balcony in favour of a lush vegetable balcony. I've got beans and strawberry spinach, beans and basil, beans and corn and pumpkin, cucumbers and dill, and peas. Did I mention beans? I think I was craving beans when I hit the seed swap or something. Maybe you shouldn't go to those things hungry. In the regular garden there's the peas, cukes, dill, fennel, strawberries, chard, carrots, beets, summer savory, parsley, salad mix, sage, thyme and chives. Oh and more beans. (Cannellini beans, my favourites.) And then in the sunroom I've got about 20 tomato plants and a few less peppers. I'll be picking up a few more tomatoes for the balcony next week at Carolyn Herriot's sale and - if I can find good ones - watermelons, because I think they'd be very happy on my deck.

So that sounds like a lot, but it's nowhere near our vegetable needs for the year. That's not really the point though. Every year I learn more about gardening, and vegetables, and how it all works, and it's all good knowledge to have in the event I ever actually have enough space available to grow all the food we need. I think a lot of people garden for that reason rather than immediate food security - they just want to know that they CAN.

Monday, May 19, 2008

another great kids' menu

Mo:Le has an awesome kids' menu too, just so ya know, and it's in downtown Victoria which might be more accessible than Smoken' Bones in Langford. We went there for brunch after Rowan decided that an hour was enough of the parade and she was done. We had a leisurely brunch of deliciousness, then when we left we discovered the parade was still on. That's a LOT of parade!

Anyway, check out Mo:Le. Good food, nice place.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

veggie storage - a better way than plastic bags

I got a bit sick of all the plastic vegetable bags I was using and decided to cut back. I contemplated making cloth bags, indeed I may still do that, but for now I just buy veggies without using bags wherever I can (the veggie stand won't even give bags, so that makes it easier!) and I line my vegetable drawers in the fridge with damp dish towels. Then I cover what goes in with another damp towel. This works really amazingly well! My veggies stay beautifully fresh seemingly forever - far, far, FAR longer than they ever did in plastic bags.

The only thing I'll use bags for now is for produce that tends to escape, like grapes (which I rarely buy anyway). I know those bags can be recycled, but that still uses energy. Reduce comes first in the three R's, and in this case, it actually works better than the alternative. Go figger.

I change the towels in there sort of weekly. But if they don't look grungy, I just damp them a little more and put them back in. It is pretty low-maintenance as far as maintenance goes, and it certainly makes putting groceries away and quick fridge inventories faster. And did I mention the staying fresh part? I have chard in my fridge from last week that is indistinguishable from the chard I bought today, and I had some celery last something like 2 months (why no, we don't eat a lot of celery!)

Monday, May 05, 2008

another restaurant recommendation

Tonight on our way back from picking up the milk - Stirling came too, to see the farm and meet the cows - we stopped in at Smoken' Bones for dinner. Other foodie types have all reviewed the restaurant sufficiently glowingly so I'll skip that bit - but I do want to say that they have THE best kids' menu EVER. Four items: pork ribs, pulled pork or bbq chicken sandwich, mac & cheese (homemade with aged cheddar), or a salmon fillet, each with choice of one side (and there are a LOT of tasty, child-friendly vegetable options in the sides).

It is so nice to find a casual restaurant - think hillbilly music and hockey on tv - that serves good food to grown-ups and the SAME good food to kids, scaled appropriately, but nary a fish stick or chicken finger in sight. YAY. Finally! We will go back, for sure!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

pork belly

Some time ago, back in the good old days when we had cable, I remember watching an episode of "The Heat" on FoodTV in which the head chef guy (Mark McEwan?) made a couple of his up-and-coming young chefs duke it out with pork belly, and they all screwed up. Ever since then, I've figured it was one of those things, like foie gras mousse, that probably shouldn't be attempted at home.

But then I saw some. A little package, maybe a pound and a bit, in the freezer/discount bin at Red Barn (which carries only Hertel's pork, which is fairly decent as far as ethics go, and local). Unable to resist, I bought it. And it sat in the freezer for many long months, taunting me every time I went looking for that last little baggie of chicken stock that I knew was in there somewhere.

Then several weeks ago, while my mom was visiting and I was on the second day of a wretched horrible virus and had no appetite whatsoever, it came to pass that my mother and I went to Vista 18 for dinner (only because we had theatre tickets for later that evening, and my participation in THAT was only because my neighbour Inge was starring in the production... I felt like crap and would much preferred to have been home on the couch, but we'd had this evening planned for months.) I barely felt up to an appetizer, but fortunately on the appy menu there was a dish consisting of beer-braised pork belly, creamed sauerkraut and purple potato perogis. Even with a fever, sore throat and no appetite, that sounded good. And it was, although I suspect - even more now in retrospect - that the pork may have been just day or so past its prime. But the way it was prepared was a revelation. It was braised, yes - but then it had been sliced and fried, so it was all crispy, but still tender, but chewy. Anyway, I managed to finish the whole dish and we stumbled off to the theatre where I dozed fitfully through much of the first act.

This morning, I had had enough of the pork belly taunting me from the recesses of the freezer, and I figured I *probably* knew how to cook it properly, so I took it out of the freezer. Later this afternoon, after the pork belly had spent the day thawing in a most un-foodsafe manner on the counter, I sliced some onion, smooshed all the remaining cloves of garlic, sliced up the slightly battered ginger in the fridge, dumped that in a saucepan with two different kinds of beer (because one bottle didn't have enough in it) and some soy sauce and honey. I warmed that up while I examined the pork belly and found the rind still on. It would be a waste, I reasoned, to leave the rind on to possibly be ruined by my experimental cooking, so I took it off, salted it, and threw it in the toaster oven. It emerged 20 minutes later as crackling, which I devoured. (The husband and child were away; I didn't think they needed to know about this bit.)

I nestled the pork belly into the cooking liquid (which came up about 1/2 way on the meat), and braised it for 2 hours, then transferred the meat to a cutting board. I turned the heat up under the liquid to reduce it, tasted it and found the beer I'd used had been too bitter and I'd forgotten to add vinegar at the start to mitigate that, so I added some vinegar, then poured some of the result into a measuring cup, and added some more soy sauce, more honey, and a glug of hoisin.

Then I attempted to slice the meat into 1/2 cm slices, and found my knives needed sharpening. I ended up with some slightly ragged slices, 5 or 6 in all. I heated some grapeseed/sesame oil in a saute pan and seared the slices until they were brown and crisp on both sides, pulled them off, brushed them liberally with the liquid concoction, and stuck them in the toaster oven to keep warm while I finished the blanched kale off with some hoisin, sesame oil and vinegar.

It was STELLAR. Perfect. Will do again in a heartbeat. SO good. I never thought I'd say this, but pork belly is wasted on bacon. Wait, not completely wasted. I can't imagine life without bacon. But bacon is perhaps not the zenith of what pork belly can aspire to.

Altogether it was a lovely meal. I wish I'd bought a bigger bit of belly, but I'm deluding myself if I think that would have meant leftovers.