Saturday, November 29, 2008

And a week later...

Tonight marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Montreal locavore's diet. The sourdough starter which began its process almost two weeks ago was finally transformed into what will hopefully be the first of many local, homemade breads. To my amazement the frothy, sponge-like starter was still kickin'! It was to be enjoyed with some garlic-butter mashed potatoes, fresh spinach, roasted carrots, and spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce (all of which still used 95% local ingredients). Many of the recipes were repeated from last week's feast and so thanks go out to all those who helped. The bread didn't really follow a single recipe but was instead a combination of different resources so I'll leave you with what the basics were:

Sourdough Starter:
1 cup flour (I started with whole wheat and then alternated with white flour just so that it would have some fluffyness in the final product. Feel free to experiment, but I definitely suggest starting with white flour. I felt far more accomplished seeing it rise into a nice soft bread than ending with a really dense, hearty type of loaf)
1 cup water
leave out at room temp with air. Each day throw away half and add another 1/2 cup of flour. Less and less water should be necessary but add enough to keep it sponge-like without being too saturated.

After one week, it is ready to be used. Keep it in the fridge from this point on, still with a little bit of air. You do still need to feed it but instead of daily, only weekly using the same process.

When you decide to use it, you should take out half and leave it in a warm place to "proof" for several hours. The other half can go back into the fridge after you regenerate it with another 1/2 cup of flour, 2 tbsp of salt, and some water as needed. You can also add some honey or maple syrup to the half in which you are using. It will vary in the time it takes to rise, but you should expect to see it double in size before using it. Once this happens you want to "punch" it/ kneed it a bit with an equal amount of flour to starter ratio. Again, you should only add enough water so that you can work with the dough and it isn't too sticky. Add it slowly though since a little water goes a long way and you can always keep adding. Here is where if you put it back in the fridge, it allows for the lactobacilli to multiple but the yeast will be retarded as they don't do so well in colder environments. The longer it stays in the fridge (2-3 hours usually), the more "sour" tasting your dough will be. When you take it out, you will punch it one last time, shape it, add any other ingredients to it you wish to have in your bread, and let it rise again in a warm environment as your oven preheats. Throw it on some lightly oiled tin foil and throw it in @ 425 for about 45 minutes or so. You should smell it once its ready!

I hope this works for others as it did for me. I encourage you all to look up other sources in cookbooks or online since there are many ideas out there which you may like to try. I am by no means an expert. Cant wait to hear how it turns out!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

wrap up

We're done now.
But even so, I haven't dived back into the old habits like I thought I would.

I started off the challenge in a sceptic haze. I didn't realize what I wasn't getting into. I did know that I wanted to learn more about what was in season. This gave me that opportunity and I 1/2 volunteered/forced myself into it. The following is what I've gained.

I learned that there's a lot of veggies to munch on in November. Just to name a few: carrots, beets, potatoes, leeks, celeri, brocolli, squash, cabbage, onions and garlic. And really there's really more.

As for fruits, I've found a new liking for apples. They're quite versatile. Mmm apple sauce and apple pies. I even made up a sauteeing marinade with apple cider, apple vinegar and honey. It's amazing with beets and spinach.

Another thing, I realized that true Quebecoise cuisine involves a lot of dairy. We made fresh honey ice cream. Enough said.

Something else that's truely Quebec? Maple syrup.

I also enjoyed using local herbs for seasoning. Simon & Garfunkel would be pleased. I used parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. I enjoyed using basil as well, made some pesto with sunflower oil.

One of my biggest challenges was wheat, more like the lack of in the area. There are 2 grains grown locally: barley and buckwheat. To my surprise, I love buckwheat! It's actaully a comfort food that my Baba (grandma) used to cook for me. I was inspired and made holobtsi, cabbage rolls with buckwheat filling.

We also discovered the Premiere Moisson bakery, which uses an assortment local flour (ontario grown). We were able to make pie crust and spaghetti. And oh damn, I learned how to make white sauce (oil, flower, milk and leeks do the trick).

Some other tidbits:
-100M within Montreal spans over towards Ottawa and east to Sherbrooke. It also heads down into the states. We didn't find much local produce from down south though.
-eggs and other local meats are fair game (jean-talon market)
-dumpster diving can add some exotic variety to the local menu (somewhere is Tim's ecological rational)

It's not a huge deal now that I have the option to get whatever I want. I'm still very happy with my morning apples and baked veggies. Overall, I ate rediculously well these past 2 weeks. I explored local food combinations and experimented with recipes. And if I do it again, it'll be in another season!

Monday, November 24, 2008

MMMmmmMM... Food Miles....

Well, its over now, and I've eaten cake, drank beer and not looked at a label aaalll day!

I've learned a lot about how a local food system can be viable, even in November -- and how it can't be. Let me explain. Recently I've been reading critiques of the 'food miles' concept. Mostly, they are based on classic free market concepts like comparative advantage and efficiency, which frankly just make me roll my eyes. The argument is that some places have climates that are more efficient at making certain foods than others, and the energy saved in production more than makes up for the energy used in transport, and thus local food activists are just local farm lobbyists in disguise, using a marketing trend to sell more produce. While this argument (as many free market arguments do) misses the point completely, it does raise some interesting questions.

They are absolutely right that if I try to grow my own bananas, I'm taxing the environment more than if I ship them from the tropics (yes, this example is actually used...). However, the free marketist is once again attempting to reduce all information about the product down to its price. Throw in reducing social costs, having a connection with the land and the community, acheiving community sustainability, having more control over how your food is produced and processed AND reducing food miles, then you have a good idea why eating local is often the better decision.

But lets look at a less extreme example than bananas. Should we be eating local wheat? It's probably much more efficient to grow in the Prairies, even with train transport (though I haven't done the math). Yet, we did find and use wheat quite a bit. How sustainable is it, if say, everyone ate local wheat in the quantities that we did. The answer is, devastatingly, not really. But instead of throwing out the local diet completely, I think we need to clarify our point. Ideally, we should be eating proportionately to how abundantly the food can be grown here sustainably. Thus, lots of potatoes, squash, honey, maple syrup and leeks, not so much garlic, alcohols, and spinach, very little wheat, exotic herbs and others (though these might grow in small quantities in well-designed permacultural gardens) and no bananas, mangoes or coconut milk. In other words, honest 'food mile activist' isn't looking for everything we eat NOW to be grown locally, they are asking for a change in the types of foods we eat. And trust me, that food can be down-right delicious...


P.S. Check out the article on us in the McGill Daily:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Halfway there!

So we've past the halfway point. I must say that we, as a group, have completed, or are set to complete all the goals I set out for myself in terms of foods I wanted to make. We've found sunflower oil at Le Frigo Vert, hard ciders at the SAQ and wheat at Premiere Moisson. We've prepared amazing apple pie with strawberry jam, sandwiches, mayonnaise, pancakes and cheese sauces. We have plausible plans for ice creams, sourdough breads, pizza and pastas. What does this mean for you? It means that as a group we've decided to throw a lavish meal together on Saturday (the finale) with all the delicious recipes we've come up with and including only local food. The menu for this meal however, is top secret, you have to come to the finale if you want some!

In terms of recent successes, I'd like to describe this in more detail:

It's a sandwich.

But more than that, this is my childhood. One of the things I miss most about home is the lack of sandwiches I have up here in Montreal.

This one is made from scratch: the flat bread is made from wheat from Premiere Moisson's local fields, the "mayonaise" is egg, keifer yogurt, wheat, salt and local spices blended then heated until thick. The onions, cabbage, chicken (thanks Johanna!) and mushrooms were fried in honey and topped with local spinach. My mouth continues to water...


P.S. Shout out to Hulia for her generous donation of sage and basil. Mucho apreciado!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

apples, apples and then some more apples

before I get to the apples, I'll mention the past couple of days.

Sunday was the Jean-Talon market was great. Unfortunately we didn't make it on time for fresh herbs but we did meet a charasmatic guy selling local, free-range chicken. It's the place where they sell $1 meat-on-a-stick.

a bit of dumpster diving was a lovely addition to the trip. You can read Tim's justification on savaging the leftovers. During the hunt, a little old man gave me his recipe to make strawberry jam (sans preservatives). Yes, I made it and have been using it as a salad dressing.

and the collective dinner was outstanding. Local food really can be exceptionally tasty. But you can read Ian's blog for that..

-apple cider smoothie with left-over berries

-roasted squash, carrots, onions, garlic and turnips
*I need fresh herbs!
-carrots to snack on during the day
-salad w. sliced apples in my strawberry sauce

note: I had to pre-pack my meals. By the end of my 9pm class I was starving. Luckily, I had forgotten some food at Tim's and damn, he ended up making one mean meal:

-fried potato wedges
-boiled carrots & steamed spinach
-mmm creamy cheese sauce
-apple sauce

Here's the food:
Here's our reactions:

I got home and prepped some food for the next day.

apples. they're in season and I've decided to embrace apples during this 2 week trek. so this morning

-apple cider and apples for Bk.

-tba, off to meet Tim and Ian. I'm bringing roasted veggies

prepped dinner:
-spinach salad + baked apples & carrots, carmalized in honey

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Waste Debate

Yesterday, I ate food that wasn't local. In fact, I'm willing to bet it came more than 2000 km, all the way from California. But I don't consider myself to have cheated on the diet, and I'll tell you why.

Ian, Johanna and I made the trek up to Jean-Talon yesterday, in the hopes of getting some of the last veggies that will be readily available this year. You see, all the reputable vendors (you know, the ones that won't lie to you about where their food comes from) of vegetables are taking off in the next week, knowing that local vegetables will dry up by then. Anyone still around selling tomatoes are importing them from somewhere. Anyhow, after we had scoured the market for garlic, spinach, squash, honey, carrots, eggs and other local delights, we headed straight to the dumpsters out back. Here's the shock. Everyday at closing time at markets in Montreal, and across the world, tonnes and tonnes of perfectly good food is thrown out, either because its not worth it for the vendors to take it home, or because it just won't sell. Spying a goldmine, we joined about 10 other people who were scouring the garbage for food throughout the market. We found large boxes FULL of bell peppers, crates of California strawberries, blueberries, a single perfectly-shaped tomato, and even an errant yam. Given that the already paltry labeling system suffers a complete break down once the food hits the dumpster, we have little to no idea where this stuff comes from. So can we still eat it and stay true to our diet???

The answer for me is "Yes." The way I see it, the product I'm getting when I jump into a dumpster isn't the berries, the peppers, or the yam. It's the waste I'm buying (for an admittedly bargain basement price). This waste is locally produced by the mess of a food system we have, where so much sweat, fuel and nature can be thrown wholesale into the landfill. These markets AT LEAST need to get a serious composting program going. What do you guys think? Am I cheating?

To finish, I must say, that while it maybe beneficial to nature in general to nourish oneself on what will inevitably be refuse anyway, eating food waste is not in itself a practice that can be expanded to all sustainably; that is, it's only an exclusive club who can, or even wants to do it. So can I consider it sustainable if only I can do it?