Category Archives: Food

A Wealth of Veggie Information

I stopped in at one of my local grocery stores the other day, the Murrayville Marketplace IGA, to pick up some fresh ginger and boy did I get an earful more. It was awesome. Not only did I get the ginger I came for, I also found local kale on special “grown right around the corner” and more information on veggies and fruit than I ever thought possible in a 7.5 minute span. Warren, the produce manager, was a wealth of information. This guy is jazzed about produce and talks really, really fast.

kaleIt started with the kale, which looked great so I took two and was having trouble stuffing into the bag. That’s when Warren offered to help and advised it was local, local. As in right here, local. That, of course makes me happy. Which led to a comment about the lemons, which having been advertised as coming from South Africa, did not make me happy. Whereupon I was advised that they weren’t from South Africa, they were actually from California. Which since lemons don’t grow here or anywhere near here, is as local as I’m ever going to get and significantly more local than South Africa. Which makes me happy.

I’m not exactly sure how we got from California lemons to Hawaiian avocados, but from there he solved a dilemma I’ve been having with said vegetable — avocados in general, not the Hawaiian kind specifically.

Now, you know I love local and do what I can to make food choices that fit the criteria. But I do have my weaknesses and avocados are one. However, I can’t seem to get them to ripen lately. Especially when I buy them from the big box warehouse store — you know the one. They turn brown on the outside but are rock hard on the inside. “What gives?”

That’s when I learned the trick to ripening avocados. Warren told me all fruit gives off ethylene gas as it ripens and if you want to ripen something you just increase the amount of ethylene in its vicinity. His suggestion: put a banana or two in a plastic bag along with the unripened avocados, seal it, and presto, in a day or two you’ve got ripe avocados. Bananas give off a lot of ethylene so they are the perfect “gassing” agent. Also, heat helps so put the bag on top of the fridge. However, do keep an eye on them as too much of a good thing can cause “burning” or uneven ripening. If it gets too gassy and hot, just pop a hole or two in the bag.

Now, gassing one’s fruit sounds very chemical-ish and therefore nasty, but a little research turned up that it’s actually an ancient, naturally occurring practice:

“Ethylene has been used since the ancient Egyptians, who would gash figs in order to stimulate ripening (wounding stimulates ethylene production by plant tissues). The ancient Chinese would burn incense in closed rooms to enhance the ripening of pears.”                     Source: Wikipedia

Of course, today’s process isn’t quite as natural as when the Egyptians did it, as it’s done on a mass scale, but it IS how you get ripe fruit that comes from great distances. So if you want bananas that aren’t mush by the time you get them, you’ll be eating ones that have been gassed.

After that little exploration into the world of fruit and veg, I’m pondering what other dilemmas Warren may be able to solve and thinking up some really tough questions so I can go in and test him. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Green beans and broccoli from the garden, regular and heritage carrots from the farmers market, and "grown around the corner" kale. I forgot to include the fresh ginger.

Thai Green Curry: Green beans and broccoli from the garden, regular and heritage carrots from the farmers market, and “grown around the corner” kale. I forgot to include the fresh ginger.


Ace Curries To Go

I love Indian food but am completely intimidated by the spices. And I’ve never been good with putting together sauces. I know people who can put a dab of this and a dab of that and create amazing things. While I enjoy the final outcome, I’ve always suspected this requires a special sensitivity to taste that I greatly admire but do not possess.

My confession: I’ve resorted to buying pre-made, bottled sauces and some pre-packed dishes. This approach does require careful reading of the ingredients label to screen out unnecessary sugar, salt and chemicals, which significantly limits one’s options. Fortunately with pre-fab Indian the contents are most often real food, rather than chemical facsimiles thereof.

It’s definitely easy. Still, using bottled sauces can get pretty expensive. And I don’t have as much control as I’d like about the type and quality of cooking fat and other ingredients used, either.


I was at the EAT! Fraser Valley show last weekend and came across the perfect answer to my quest for fast, easy, and healthy Indian food at home: Ace Curries To Go. Let me just say, the smell from the booth is what drew me in; the taste of chickpea curry (a.k.a. channa masala) is what sold me.

Based in North Vancouver, BC, Ace Curries to Go is making curry super easy for the gourmet-challenged among us, myself included. In fact, I suspect they may have made this product just for me:

  • They work their magic with a variety of curry spice mixes including, prawn vindalo, chicken korma, and aloo ghobi (potato & cauliflower)
  • Each bottle includes a shopping list of basics you’ll need to complete the meal. You can add/experiment as you like
  • Ready to heat sauces in a bottle are also available if you’re in a rush, and
  • If you truly don’t have time to shop or think, you can pick up a curry kit that includes everything you need

There is no MSG, salt or preservatives — just a whole lot of spices in just the right proportions.

I intend to take their advice tonight and “Be the chef that you can be! COOK WITHOUT FEAR MY FELLOW CURRY CONNOISSEURS!!” That and a bottle of spices are all the encouragement I need to get started.

Farmers Market Alternative

On my daily walk-about last week I found myself at Home Grow-In, a corner store just 2 blocks west of Cambie that stocks only natural and/or organic BC grown produce and BC made products. The plentiful produce from around the province looked absolutely delicious.

For those days you just can’t make it to your farmers market, chances are Home Grow-In has what you need. And you might just decide to join their buyer’s co-op, similar to a community supported agriculture program (CSA) but with a wider selection of products.

196 West 18th Avenue, Vancouver
Open 7 days a week to 8:00 pm

Garlic Harvest 2010

Check out the fab garlic I harvest from my garden! I’m not sure why it’s such a novelty, but growing my own garlic feels like a really big deal.

Maybe it’s because you have to plant it almost a full year ahead and it sits in the ground over winter.

Maybe it’s because I had so much garlic rust fungus that getting a crop was in question.

Maybe it’s because we never grew garlic growing up on the Prairies, so it’s the novelty of it.

Whatever the reason, here is the fruit of my labour! I’m very excited.

Of the 9 bulbs that sprouted, 3 are 3″ in diameter with big, plump cloves. I’m saving those, I’ll eat the smaller ones first.

One clove was too small and dried out to use, 3 were average size, and the rest were a bit smaller than average.

The size of the stalks had my fellow gardeners wondering if I’d planted elephant garlic, which I hadn’t. I seeded from large, organic cloves I bought at the local Kitsilano Farmers Market. I don’t know what variety it is, but many of the clove skins have a purple striped colouring to them.

I’m using the garlic in the many stir fries I create using an every changing blend of kale, beet greens, Swiss chard, green beans, yellow beans and snow peas. I LOVE eating meals that are completely from my garden, it feels so rewarding and I know I’m eating very healthfully.

Now THAT is local and delicious!

Does Wild Taste Better or is Hunger the Ultimate Spice?

Ever since I was a kid I’ve noticed that the impression a meal makes on me is directly proportionate to the lengths I went to in order to prepare it. Like when I go fishing whatever I catch tastes great, way better than any fancy local fishmonger bought equivalent. Having an inquisitive mind with a bit of analytical twist, being a foraging enthusiast and a lifelong foodie I decided to put that theory to the test.

Zeller's Bolete

Zeller's Bolete - photo by Ron Wolf

So last fall off I went with my mushroom guru Sequoia Lesosky to see what can be found in a local forest floor this time of year, and I came home with a variety of exotic mushrooms. I also bought some wild mushrooms of the same or similar kind on Granville Island Market to use in the same recipes for my “control group”. I patiently waited until tomorrow when I prepared a feast of three different dishes from the wild and bought mushrooms and shared them with my family. The verdict?

To my family there was no discernible difference. To me the wild stuff tasted stronger and quite different than any of the store bought stuff, which is what I sort of expected as for me it wasn’t a blind tasting – I knew which was which. And then I decided that it must be that the difference is owed to the residual “spirit of the hunt”. It took a lot of effort to get the whole thing together, and it was all in my plate. In theirs? It was just soup or risotto or whatever. I decided they missed out. I am taking my family with me the next time I take to the forest.

Grow Your Own Gourmet Mushrooms

Shiitake Mushroom Block

As the beautiful spring sun begins to awaken our gardens ’tis the season to start growing your own gourmet mushrooms. It’s not as hard as you’d think!

Start with a mushroom block. It’s a super easy way to keep yourself stocked up on delicious mushrooms throughout the year. The blocks come pre “seeded” and just need to be kept moist and cool. And, if properly cared for, each block can produce 3 to 4 crops.

The mushroom blocks, supplied by Western Biologicals Ltd. here in BC, will be available by the end of February. Email to reserve yours, instructions included. Last season’s sold out quickly, so order early!

Oyster Mushroom Block

Shiitake and Oyster blocks are available for $15 each with $1 from each block going to support VanGrow, the Vancouver backyard garden growing club.

Oh, and if you can’t get to mushrooms, they will come to you.

Bicycle delivery is available for an additional $2 if you live within the delivery area (west of Main St., north of 41st Ave, and downtown Vancouver). Map

Maybe You CAN Live on Bread Alone

Woman may not be able to live by bread alone, but if I had to try I’d be choosing Silver Hills. Silver Hills bakery has been around for a long time with their signature Squirrelly bread, but you may think they’re new because they’ve recently re-branded (good job!). They’ve got a fresh new look, and a fun new cheeky attitude. I burst out laughing – out loud – at the grocery store, reading the backs of each package. (Each flavour has its own story, take a moment to look for them next time you’re in the bread aisle.)

In addition to Squirrelly, there are 8 other flavours. Hardy Hearty Harvest is my favourite…I think. It’s hard to choose.

A BC home grown success story, Silver Hills keeps ingredients simple and literally easy-to-read. Their sprouted grain innovation, which uses various grain sprouts in place of flour, gives gluten sensitive souls some it’s-hard-as-a-puck options. Wait, I think I hear dancing in the street.

I was very pleased to discover that with the new look their bags are now biodegradable. I have a little experiment going in my community garden compost pile, to see if I can prove it.

Local Food and Recycling

One of the many great fringe benefits of buying local food is that it can often lead to reduced packaging and therefore a reduced need for recycling. Buying producer-direct at a farmers market is a prime example of this. You buy from a bin, you bring your own reusable bag and bingo, no extra packaging necessary.

That’s ideal, but not always possible. For me that means I’m looking for reduced (or reduced-impact) packaging when no-packaging options aren’t an option. Confused?

Freden Fine Foods

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned having discovered that the meat I’d purchased to make my Liz’s World Famous Pizza came on a non-recyclable tray. (From the label I had surmised that the product would have a Canadian processing plant, and therefore be more locally produced than a product from the US — Johnsonville is a US company. Having looked at the website, I’m not so sure.)

Anyway, I asked Johnsonville about the non-recyclable trays they use, but never got a response. I’m not really surprised. So I did what I said I’d do and bought truly local, this time from Freden Fine Foods. Turns out Freden wholesales to my local grocery store and the store uses recyclable trays for their meat.

It’s not no packaging, but it is reduced-impact packaging. Sweet.

Raw Milk Controversy: Fact or Fiction

Dairy CowMy only personal experience with raw milk was years ago on a friends farm I visited in Manitoba. I was curious to try unpasturized milk, so she pointed me to a pitcher in the fridge and said, “Help yourself.” It was horrible, but I was too polite to say so. When she asked me later, I mentioned I hadn’t really cared for it, at which point she realized she’d pointed out the pitcher of sour milk she was saving for baking!

On a purely logical level, it makes sense to me that if a farmer is feeding his or her family milk from their cows and is taking proper and more personalized care of them because the herd is small and s/he can, the milk will be fine. Statistically, that is the case.

Now that we know more about beneficial bacteria in food than we did in the late 1800’s, when it became the norm, we know that pasteurization isn’t necessarily the holy grail of health and safety. Well, we do if we read beyond what is published by commercialized industry and the governments they lobby.

Don’t get me wrong, it has it’s place. If you consider that back in the day, regular daily personal hygiene was sketchy (at best), you can see why sterilizing everything you put in your mouth seemed like such a good idea. Now that farming operations are so much cleaner, maybe it’s time to reconsider what we’re giving up by not allowing raw milk products — a variety of absolutely delicious cheeses, to start.

I just think we should have a choice.

For more on the topic, read Did You Want Your Milk Raw? in today’s The Tyee.