Saturday, February 28, 2009

Blue Nile Restaurant

Last night we did not feel like cooking dinner and were looking for somewhere to go out for dinner with the kids. In the end we came up with the Blue Nile restaurant on Head Street.

I have liked Ethiopian food for a long time. The neighbourhood I lived in in Vancouver in the early mid 90s had two Ethiopian restaurants.

The food at the Blue Nile was of a quality that is good. For a change I was in a restaurant in Victoria that was making food I could not have made at home. We all ate from the buffet, which is not the style I was looking for, but more on that later.

The wat, stews of meat or lentils, spiced in berbere was great, just what I wanted. All of really like the zehbi siga, though when Stephen tried to eat it without the injera, he food it too spicy. Injera is made with teff and is quite sour, almost bitter in flavour.

What was missing for me was the traditional serving style, a large round platter of sort to let everyone eat family style. The platter is covered with injera and then has dollops of different foods. You eat by tearing peices of the injera and picking the food you want. You have no need for your own plate or utensils.

I like buna as a coffee style, but the coffee we got last night did not have any spices ground and brewed with it. Traditionally this is cloves and cinnamon. They did serve it in the traditional jebena. Ethiopians take their coffee very seriously, they put Seattle people to shame in their approach to coffee. They are almost like the Japanese with the tea ceremony when it comes to coffee.

There is one more food I would liked to have had but that they do not have on the menu and this is kitfo. I assume there is a problem serving kifto as it is marinated uncooked meat that is very spicey, sort of like beef tartare but only with a lot more flavour. Sort of similar is gored gored which is more like a carpaccio though in cubes.

The restaurant has not updated the menu they have online where the buffet price was listed as $10.95. Last night it cost us $13.95 and this lead to a bit of sticker shock for me when I got the bill and it was $75 and not closer to $60 where I thought it would be.

Blue Nile on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Food Security in BC's Capital Region - a visual year in review

This is from an email I got today:
Hello Friends,

There have been many exciting successes, achievements and happenings related to strengthening food security in our region.

Rather than have a lot of written or spoken reports, we thought it would be fun to gather photos and images from you and use them to prepare a visual account. We can present this at the 2009 Food Matters! Forum, add it to the website; you may want to use it at your events too.

What we need from you:
Photos of your work this past year (like the calf that was born during the time of a CR-FAIR meeting, the abundance of produce from a community garden, engaged people participating in a meeting, a gathering at a feast, a great turnout at an event.....)

Brief statements of achievements (lbs of product produced from a garden; number of people served at a food bank; commitments made in a food charter; outcomes of presentations to municipal councils....)

Media coverage (image of news articles...)

Anything else you can imagine being captured in a visual, powerpoint type, presentation

Please send any items you would like to have included in this presentation by Monday 9 March. We'll collate what we receive, and show it at the Food Matters! Forum that Friday.
Any questions?? Just call me....
Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you,

Communications Manager
Community Council
3948 Quadra Street | Victoria, BC V8X 1J6
Tel: 250-383-6166 Fax: 250-479-9411
Leadership that brings the community together

City of Vancouver to allow chickens

MOVER: Councillor Andrea Reimer
SECONDER: Councillor Heather Deal

WHEREAS Vancouver’s current Animal Control By-aw (#9433 section 7.2) forbids the keeping of chickens in our City;

AND WHEREAS on July 8, 2003, Council approved a motion supporting the development of a just and sustainable food system for the City of Vancouver that fosters equitable food production, distribution and consumption; nutrition; community development and environmental health;

AND WHEREAS in April 2002 the City adopted a formal position, definition and principles on sustainability;

AND WHEREAS in January 2007, Council adopted the Vancouver Food Charter which sets out the City’s commitment to the development of a coordinated municipal food policy that recognizes access to safe, sufficient, culturally appropriate and nutritious food as a basic human right for all Vancouver residents;

AND WHEREAS many cities in North America such as Victoria, BC, Seattle, Washington, and New York City already permit households to keep chickens;

AND WHEREAS urban chicken-keeping can contribute to our City’s improved food security, decrease greenhouse gas emissions related to the transportation of food, and the goal of creating a just and sustainable food system for our City;


A. THAT Council instruct the Director of Legal Services to bring forward for
enactment an amendment to the Animal Control By-law in order to repeal the
prohibition against keeping of backyard hens in the City of Vancouver.

B. THAT Council direct staff to develop policy guidelines for the keeping of
backyard hens in the City of Vancouver that both protects the health and
welfare of citizens, and ensures the humane treatment of backyard hens.

C. THAT Council thanks the City’s Food Policy Council for their significant
investigations into the feasibility of repealing the prohibition on the keeping of
backyard hens and advocacy for improved food security in the City of

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I had a guy from a few blocks over come to the door today and ask about my little flock of birds and what it takes to be allowed to have chickens. It pleased me to have someone come and ask about the hens and to be able to tell him what he has to do and what his options are for backyard birds.

I put him onto my friend the vet and backyard chicken guru and told him about the backyard chicken tour in May.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Making Pasta

A few weeks back I bought some durum flour at the Real Canadian Warehouse store in Esquimalt - 10kg for $13. I did this because "real" pasta" is made with it. So does it make a difference? Yes!

The pasta we are making now is firmer and easier to work. The texture of the cooked noodles is much nicer, it can get that perfect al dente texture one wants in pasta. The flour is just slighty coarser than I expected, but this helps sauce hold.

The recipe I use is one egg to one cup of flour and tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt - water then added in the mixing as needed.

Making your pasta is so easy and quick that I am not sure why everyone is not doing it. My eight year old Stephen can do it.

Of course the eggs are from the Harriet Road flock

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gardening - When to Plant

One problem I have here in Victoria is in trying to figure out when I should start planting stuff in the veggie garden. This town has nice spring like days at intervals all winter long, a day like today lures me into wanting to do some work in the garden.

Living in Lillooet made all of this easier. Before April 1st it was winter. I had a clear several weeks at the end of April and the start of May during which I would get the veggie garden in. Here in Victoria it is a lot harder for me to get a good sense of when.

I suspect I would start with peas and spinach now. Radishes and lettuce may also work well, but do I really want to have the veggie garden going from mid February to mid November? That is nine months of the year!

On the upside, I will not be able to do much in garden over many of the next weekends because I will be off with the Scouts camping or at other events.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What’s in our regional food basket?

Another local food and politics type of event.

What’s in our regional food basket?
Friday March 13, 2009
2:00 – 7:00 pm

2:00 – 4:30pm

Simultaneous afternoon workshops:

  • Increasing access to food for households living on low income
  • Year round public markets in BC’s Capital Region
  • Hooking up! Potential in community-university partnerships on food issues


Welcome and Keynote presentation our regional “food shed”


Getting to know you - speed dating for Foodies and Friends
Highlighting Regional food security happenings –lets get visual!
Pot luck supper – we’ll provide the soup and salad; your contribution adds to the flavour and the fun
Celebration of 2009 Food Security Champions

More complete details to follow
Registration - $15

Subsidies available on request

RSVP to or tel 250-383-6166

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Root Cellar Green Grocer

I have been buying more and more of my fruit and vegatables from the Root Cellar at 1286 Mackenzie Ave. Their prices are good, their quality is high and the selection is broad. I have dropped almost all my fruit and veg shopping from the grocery stores and given it to them. If you have not gone and shopped there, please try it out.

Family market bucks trend

Loyal fresh food customers keep cash registers ringing

By Carla Wilson, Times Colonist
February 12, 2009 4:02 AM

In these days of economic uncertainty, the one-year-old Root Cellar Village Green Grocer is bucking the trend by tallying steady sales growth as loyal customers keep business booming.

"It's a little bit ridiculous," says Daisy Leslie-Orser, who owns the business with husband Adam Orser and friend "Uncle" Phil Lefreniere. "It just snowballed."

The trio has been taken aback by the success of their business, at the corner of Blenkinsop Road and McKenzie Avenue. In fact, it's been nominated in the new business category in this year's Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce's business awards.

Healthy sales have led to plans for a 1,000-square-foot building extension and more tents outdoors this spring, Orser said yesterday.

The grocery store focuses first on local produce, gradually moving farther away geographically to buy what's needed.

Since the Root Cellar opened last February, sales have climbed four times beyond what was expected, he said. Early projections of a maximum of 10 staff were soon ditched as employee numbers climbed to 42 in the busy summer and are now at about 35.

Three tills weren't enough to cope with the number of customers, so two more were added.

The Root Cellar has created a space for itself in the highly competitive grocery market, where margins are tight and pennies count. Greater Victoria shoppers already have high expectations because other grocery businesses also focus on good service, local products and community involvement.

Customers are interested in cooking and eating healthier, said Lefreniere. "People will never stop eating."

Today's economic troubles may have even helped the business because shoppers are making meals from scratch and seeking competitive prices, Leslie-Orser said.

Some suppliers aren't even farmers but are backyard gardeners who enjoy growing produce. One man brings in "beautiful" white turnips, all perfectly washed with their greens on, Leslie-Orser said. "They are art-photography quality." Also, customer requests lead to custom orders.

Shopper Judy Dziedziuch of Saanich said as a native of the Okanagan, she trusts the Okanagan family that bought the business. "Okanagan people know their fruits and vegetables," she said, adding she likes the Root Cellar's prices and quality. "They also sell a lot of local produce."

Leslie-Orser believes the owners' past experience made the difference between success and failure. The three had worked together for a group of market stores in the Okanagan, and Orser had opened several stores.

Lefreniere is the acting store manager and typically works seven days a week, said Leslie-Orser, who does administrative work. Orser's role includes going to Vancouver overnight every week to order produce from warehouses, as well as expansion planning and working with chefs and restaurants to promote their products.

Leslie-Orser and Orser are also parents of boys Tai, 10, Raine, four, and Diem, 18 months. The boys' mother laughs when she says work gets done with crossed eyes and octopus arms. "I work from home a lot. We're busy."

Staff morale gets a boost on Friday nights, when a gym is rented for games, and with activities such as summer barbecues. The management team has access to profit-sharing. The Root Cellar also supports community organizations and schools.

Owners, staff and customers are "sort of a family tribe," Leslie-Orser said -- customers even arrived at Christmas with goodies made from Root Cellar products.

When Leslie-Orser is busy, an employee hoists little Diem on her hip. Since the first day, Tai has helped out. He likes to sweep, collect carts and carry bags to cars.

"People like that," his dad said.
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Island Grains - Grow your own bread

I tried to grow my own wheat and make bread, the biggest hassle was the threshing and winnowing of the wheat. I also could not grind the wheat well either.

Island Grains is a project to allow people to grow grains, harvest them, process it and make bread. I think this is great hands on project. This is the sort of hands experience I think is good for all people to take part in from time to time.

The Tyee had an article about their project.

I think I may plant some more wheat this year, say along the sidewalk and put up a sign telling people it is wheat. Wonder what will happen.....

Alton Brown

I have to say I am a big fan of Alton Brown. His program Good Eats has expanded what I do in the kitchen and how.

What he has inspired us to do:

  • No unitaskers - this means no ultra specialized tools
  • Get our spices whole and grind them - we also date them
  • Buy whole tenderloins and break them down
  • Bought push measuring cups for such things a sour cream, honey, peanut butter and other gooey ingredients
  • Tried some more techniques - Stephen watched the episode Choux Shine to learn how to make pas de choux.

His program is an inspiration to people that are interested in understanding their food and are not interested in doing recipes by rote. You gain a deeper understanding of the technique or ingredient and thereby are better able to apply them in your cooking. It is a show for interested amateur cooks.

I have almost all the episodes of the show on DVD and watch them when I need to know how to use an ingredient or technique. The visual is important because cooking is such a visual and tactile process and Alton makes it real and accessible with what you should have on hand in your kitchen.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Seedy Saturday

I would love to go this event, but I will be up island camping with the Scouts on February 21st.

Seedy Saturday is an event that happens all over BC, here in Victoria it will be on Saturday Feb 21st. Take some time to check it out.

Backyard Chickens

I would suggest now is the time for anyone interested in chickens for this year to go to Borden Mercantile to order their hens.

There are other sources out there. Buckerfields in Duncan does a sort of poultry swap meet in the spring. There are people here in town within the backyard chicken network that have hens available.

It is time to look for your hens if your plan is to have some these year.

My hens have laid close to 1500 eggs since I got them last year. A gross value to me of about $400. My total costs to date have been about $460. I should break even in early April.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Breakfast at John's Place

Sheila and I went to John's Place this morning - I had won two $25 gift certificates on CFAX the other morning by correctly giving the date John opened his place.

I prefer to eat lunch of dinner at John's Place, but Sheila wanted the waffle with the cream cheese syrup. In general I do not like sweet stuff for breakfast, I like fresh bread or buns with cheeses and meats first thing in the morning or a spicy egg dish. I find most hollandaise sauces too heavy for me on eggs which means all the eggs benny variations are out. I know they make a killer hollandaise at John's Place, but I would prefer that over a filled crepe at dinner time.

The waffles are yeast based, making them amazingly light and airy. It is the sort of thing that if one were to do it a home you would need to get up at 5am. The cream cheese syrup is decandant and amazing. The cream cheese gives the syrup a bit more bottom a little edge to counter the sweetness. These are both things I can not realistically make at home when I want it. Sheila loved her waffle and I should have had one as well. My preference is to have something like a waffle at about 3 pm on Sunday afternoon over coffee - that German coffee and cake tradition.

I am rambling here because I hate to say anything bad about John's Place, especially since it was Deb that was serving us - her personality makes the place, she has been there since late 1984.

I ordered the Baja burrito. This was a mistake. The same sort of mistake I made the last time when I ordered the huevos rancheros.

In general I believe that when I go out to eat at a restaurant, I should get food that is better than what I could do at home. As you might remember, that was my biggest complaint about Smoken Bones Cookshack in Langford - I can do better BBQ at home. For most things John's Place is better than what I can do at home in a reasonable amount of time, but there Mexican breakfast dishes are not them.

The amount of food I got was enough to feed to hungry adults. If I had pushed through and eaten it all, it would have felt like a chore and taken the joy away. A good meal should leave satisfied but wanting more. The size also meant that it was a beast on the plate and not quickly messy for no good reason. The amount of scrabbled eggs in it were too much for all the rest of the ingredients. Had similar issues with the huevos rancheros the last time I was there.

If it was two thinner burritos with egg and chorizo being almost equal in it, then it would have likely have been perfect.

We will be going back to John's soon enough, the breakfast only used up one $25 gift certificate. I will insist on dinner next time.

Johns Place on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 6, 2009

Organic Produce

A friend asked me why I do not buy organic produce and products. For me it comes down to several things, cost, benefit and labeling.

I like my produce to be of a good quality for a reasonable price. I am not willing to pay more for a product that is of lower quality. Wilted organic lettuce is not good eats. Paying more for less is simply wrong to me.

I am also not convinced of the benefit of organic produce. Do I feel better for eating it? No. Do any studies show a benefit over the longer term? No. Does it make the world a better place? No. Does it make farming more productive and food more affordable? No. Does it create a paperwork nightmare for the farmer? Yes.

Finally, the labeling of organic does not convince me the products are what I think they should be. Organic standards are different all over the world and in the case of the USDA, they are much lower than I think really makes a difference. Processed foods with organic on the label can mean almost anything. I do not have the time to review the standards from every country around the world to make sure that what I am buying is really what I consider organic.

Some of the things included as a given in most organic standards are no GMO foods and no irradiation. In both cases I do not see the reasoning as both of the technologies are designed to reduce the chemical dependency of agriculture and have no impact on the consumer.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Food Miles as a concept

More and more it is becoming fashionable for people to be talking about Food Miles - the idea that getting your fruit from Chile is worse for the world than buying it on the Saanich Peninsula for a small grower. I am not convinced of this as being valid.

The idea has been around for some time but really take off lately with the 100 Mile Diet. The book and movement has been spurred on people that are expecting a collapse of the global transportation networks due to Peak Oil - the Doomsday Scenario de Jour. The doomsday people fit into the food security crowd, not something I buy into at all.

I think a lot of people general public have jumped on the idea of local food and food miles because they want the connection to where their food comes from and not be plugged into a big anonymous food system. I personally believe that it is important to know about where my food comes from and feel a real connection to what I eat, to know what I am putting into my body. My belief means I really research what goes into my food.

There are simplistic calculators out there for you to know where your food miles, but I do not like them as they do not tell the whole story. The important question that needs to be asked is how much fuel did it take for some food to make into your house?

For a lot of us the single biggest fuel use for our food is our own trip to buy it from the store. If you drive 10 km total round trip to buy your food, odds are that you used about a litre of fuel to get that food. If you bought ten pounds of food, that is 1/10 of a litre per pound. Trucking a tomato from California to Save-On-Foods will use about 1/75 of a litre per pound to get that tomato to the store. If you were to truck it in from southern Mexico, it would still only be about 1/40 of a litre. To be doing better than the fuel used to truck that food you would have to live within 1.25 km of the store for a total round trip of 2.5 km.

Buying in bulk at a place Costco means your fuel use per pound of food is much lower than if you buy a small amount at your local store.

Now we come to farmer's markets. Since I ran a stall at a farmer's market for several years and detailed all my costs, I know exactly the amount of fuel I used per pound of produce I sold. Over two seasons I averaged about 1/40th of a litre per pound of produce, or the same as trucking in a tomato from Mexico. Some people did better, but at a place like Moss Street market in Victoria, there volume of produce most people sell is not on the same scale of what I sold. I would estimate the typical produce vendor is using about 1/25th and 1/30th of a litre of fuel to get that produce to the market. Those pocket markets that are setting up are even worse.

Let us say in the summer I go for a drive to the Cowichan valley to buy directly from local producers. Let us say I get 20 pounds of assorted produce - I will have ended up used almost a litre for each pound of produce I buy. I have four sons and cook at home a lot so I would make use of 20 pounds in a timely manner, but I suspect most people would not buy that much.

Now if one includes ships in the transport, the distance the food travels becomes almost irrelevant. Here is an interesting article about lamb from New Zealand versus lamb from the UK - if you live in London it is better for the planet to buy the Kiwi lamb. If food miles labelling is adopted, people will be making choices that are bad for the environment because they do not understand what is going on. Actually, eating meat in of itself is a much bigger issue. When I worked out my carbon footprint in detail, 21% of my CO2 and equivilants came from meat in the year previous. It would have been even higher if I had not taken two air trips. I suspect that in the last year it was closer to 28% of my carbon footprint.

IF people really cared about this issue, they would grow their own food, but most people are not willing to do that and only want to feel like they are doing 'the right thing' and not think about the real implications.

Local production does not mean better, certainly something grown in Canada or the US typically will have had a lot more chemical inputs to raise it because of the government subsidies of farming. Farmers in countries like Argentina or Vietnam use as few chemicals as they can because they have to efficient.

Brian French ALR Report for Langford

You can read the report at this link, courtesy of Inside Langford. The report is from the fall of 2007.

Highlights of the report:

  • 118 ha of ALR in 83 titles
  • Most of the ALR is used for residential purposes
  • Langford has 3 commercial agriculture operations
  • 45 ha are identified for removal from the ALR - this includes the 28 small parcels that are too small to have the ALR rules apply.

Clearly the lands in the ALR are not of much agricultural use at the moment. The problem in Langford is that the average lot size is so small as to make use of the land for any agriculture unrealistic.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Discovery Coffee

Once again I had a coffee meeting with someone, this time with Sean Holman of Public Eye Online. As I often do, I suggested Discovery Coffee at 664 Discovery St.

They roast their own coffee on site, this makes for coffee with an amazing aroma. They also have some of the most skilled baristas in town. The food is good, certainly the best of any coffee place I go to.

They are also unpretentious - many small independent coffee places have an air superiority about them. Or they are so hippie in their orientation that they lose the connection to now as they channel 1968. Discovery Coffee is a place you can hang out in and feel at home.

Discovery Coffee on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 2, 2009

John's Place

I will be heading their for dinner shortly because I won a $50 gift certificate on CFAX the other morning. I have been going there on and off since October of 1984, though as faithfully as some of my friends who go for brunch every Sunday.

Having the baby has slowed down eating out - he is getting old enough to be left with a babysitter. Life is also easier now that my father-in-law has died, he lived with us for 11 months as he was going through cancer. Though it really, really sucks that he died.
The guy behind Vic Buffet Blog when to Chinese City Buffet and reviewed it as well. How do they manage to stay in business?