Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Yesterday one of the chickens died, I am not sure what happened but it was very dead by the afternoon.  I am going to ask Malcolm what may have happened and why when he gets back from Nova Scotia.

I am wondering what to do with the chickens in any case, they are closing in on three years old and production is way down.   I would like to build a new enclosure, the last two and a half years have shown me what I did right and what I should do differently.   I am also thinking of building it with two connected but separate enclosures so that I can add new chickens over time to my flock and I do not to start all new.   I would like to be able to try some different types of chickens when I get more.

I would like to move my flock up to eight to ten chickens.  Given the amount of baking we do and all the eggs I need to clarify stock, we need to have more chickens.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sous-vide Salmon

On Saturday I went to dinner at ulla and I was very impressed with the sous-vide chicken roll they had.   Sous-vide is not a cooking technique I have personally had much experience, I am not sure I have ever eaten anything sous-vide before.  I have seen the technique used on programs like Iron Chef America, but really no personal experience.   So what did I do?   I decide to sous-vide, how hard could it be?

Last night I decided to sous-vide some fresh sockeye a friend drop off on the door step (this year my freezer is more than full but if I could I would get 20-30 sockeye and freeze them, but I really need a second freezer to do that).   I filleted the fish - my skills are no longer what they once were.   When I lived in Lillooet I would process between 20 and 40 salmon a year and I got fairly decent at cutting off decent fillets.   I also made some steaks that I am going to through on the BBQ tonight.

Four of the fillets went to make graavilõhe (also know as gravlax).   I used to make a lot of this from spring salmon in Lillooet.   The bigger fillets made cutting slices so much easier.  

Two of the fillets looked like perfect portions for one person for dinner and I thought about the preparation and quickly decided to try sous-vide.   I do not have an immersion ciculator so I had to cook the salmon in ziplock bags and a pot of hot water.

I seasoned each fillet, covered them with thin slices of onion and put them in the ziplock bags.  I added about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to each bag.   I removed as much of the air as I could from the bags, not enough and next time I will use a straw to remove more.

I put on an eight litre pot of water on the stove and aimed for 114-120 degrees Fahrenheit.   I easily reached it and the water rose up to 135.   I let it cool down to about 120 before putting the fish in.   I added a bunch of canning rings to the bottom of the pot to make sure the salmon could not touch the bottom of the pot.  I was also using a stick blender to circulate the water from time to time to ensure a consistent temperature.

I only needed to have the element at the lowest setting to keep the temperature consistent.

I cooked the salmon for just under 20 minutes at 116-117 degrees.   I kept the temp within one degree for the whole time which was actually not hard to do.   The air in the bags did make them want to rise and I needed to put a coffee mug on them to keep them under water.

The salmon that came out was amazingly delicate and perfectly cooked.  I had no idea I could make a piece of salmon that good in my kitchen.   The onion added a perfect light bite.   The flesh of the salmon was tender but firm, no mushiness.  Wow is all I can say to it all.

We had rice with the salmon which had been cooked in a stock I had made from the salmon bones and head. For the veg I made lemony almost Chinese style braised pepper and zucchini dish, the acid from this dish balanced nicely with the rest of the meal.

I was impressed with the sous-vide method and I will be trying it again sometime soon.

(not pics because we still have no camera, outs was stolen in Manning Park about a month ago)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dinner at ulla

We went to dinner at ulla on Saturday night with Ross and Jennifer.   We had all been interested in trying this new restaurant.  I also wanted to take Sheila back to the site of our first date for our third anniversary, which was at 509 Fisguard but a different restaurant.

Coming into the space, the restaurant feels open and spacious and not formal, I would feel comfortable dining wearing jeans, t-shirt and sandals though we had dressed up for dinner.  Take a look on their facebook page for pictures of the space.  Overall the restaurant reminds me a lot of Poppy in Seattle for decor, service and the type of food, though the style of how it is served is different.

The service was attentive and friendly but not over bearing.   The waitress knew what she has talking about.

The menu was short, only six appetizers, six mains and two deserts.   I actually like seeing a short menu because it means the chef is thinking about what is realistic to deal with for ingredients and to cook.   The menu also changes consistently as the source of currently fresh food changes.

What is the style of the food?  I think it would be best described as modern fresh chef inspired.    The chef makes use of ingredients that are all basically all sourced locally.  He also makes use of one technique that I have not seen in use anywhere else in town, sous-vide.  It is a way to gently cook food at a consistent temperature by placing the food in sealed plastic bag that are immersed in a water bath to cook.   I want to be able to try this at home, but we do not have the equipment needed to do it well.   This is the first indication that this is food I can not do at home.

We deliberately all ordered different starters and mains to make sure we might be able to try a tasting from everyone on the table.   These guys would do well to do a tasting menu or something almost tapas like.   I think they might want to consider Poppy's thali idea.   The menu is short but I really wanted to try three or four starters and mains.

The best way to described what arrived the table was works of visual art on the plates.   The rectangular white plates really come across as canvasses with the food the painting.   I have seen elegant plating, I have seen pretentious plating and I have seen the boring and bland.  I have never seen a chef that plates as if he was a painter.

In the ordering, I seemed to the person that chose the weakest dishes.   My starter was a beef tartar.   People that know me know I am a bit of a freak for raw beef dishes.   I have had the classic beef tartar numerous times over the years with the whole table side preparation.  The most interesting one was at Hy's in Vancouver, this is the classic dark panel steakhouse with a waiter serving the dish table side working with a large dark wooden blow.  What I got was a something that reminded me of the current trendy raw meat mixed with peppers and other bits all formed into a puck with a ring mold.  It came with creme fraiche and potato chips.   It was decent enough, but not world shatteringly good.

Seems the tuna tataki that Shiela and Jennifer shared was earth shatteringly good.   Ross's pea soup looked and smelled prefect, it was my second choice for a starter.

For the main I had the salmon and prawns with quinoa.  The quinoa and veg were wonderful, when I have had quinoa in the past it has felt like a chore but should be eaten because it is good for you.  The prawns were perfectly done.  The salmon.....   it was a little overdone, it was a little dry, it was not the best I have had.

Sheila has this rolled chicken thing with a smoked chicken leg.  I had some of each meat and it was perfect, done in a way I could only dream of achieving.

Ross had the shortrib and the beef was cooked to perfection.   He also had these amazing cauliflower mash tortellini.   Jennifer had the lamb - once again perfectly cooked - and it came with what are the best gnocchi going in this city, maybe on the westcoast.

I had the sous-vide rhubarb on a dacquoise with a yogurt ice cream. Well done and I enjoyed it, the rhubarb was a quite unique texture from the cooking process and very nicely tart.  The others all had the chocolate desert which I can not remember what it was.

So what does it cost?    $9-12 for the starters and $22-25 for the main and $9 for the desert.

The food here is much better than I could do at home, it is worth the money.   It also shows me that the food scene in Victoria is continuing on an upward trend.   A place like ulla will set a new and higher standard for everyone else, which I think is a good thing.

ulla on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Red Fish, Blue Fish

I was volunteering at the Dragonboat Festival all weekend and therefore had a chance to go to Red Fish, Blue Fish.  I love their tacones but so rarely get a chance to go down there and buy them.   I got two of the chipotle shrimp tacones for dinner on Saturday.

The shrimp we well cooked and not little rubber balls, the chipotle mayo dressing was enough to give it a bit of heat, but not enough to overwhelm.   The pickled onions are a nice addition.   The price is quite reasonable, they could charge 20% more and not see a drop in business.   It is $10 for two of the tacones, though they leave off the HST.

I love the fact that they use an old shipping container for their restaurant.  They have a new seating area at the end of the dock against the rock bluff, this was not there the last time I had eaten her which was in the summer of 2009.

Red Fish, Blue Fish on Urbanspoon


On Saturday Sheila and I will be going to dinner with some friends at ulla on Fisgard.   The reviews seem to be very good so I am hoping for a decent experience, more details on Sunday about the meal.   You can see that the votes on the Urbanspoon badge below is quite high.

The menu is westcoast modern that changes based on what is fresh and available.

Mat Wright has a good review of the restaurant on Vibrant Victoria.   You can see some pics on their facebook page.

The Little Piggy also has a good review and she was there on opening night.

The restaurant is in the space where Tamami Sushi was, which is where I took Sheila for her 33 birthday and our first formal date out.   I will be paying attention to see if Sheila remembers this was the location.

ps - only moments later Sheila came down and I showed her the pictures from facebook and she immediately recognized as the place of our first serious date.

ulla on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I met up with my friend Terry at Pizza Allnite for dinner last night, I thought Terry would like a chance to try some good food from Afghanistan and connect with one of the local people from Kabul.   What Terry noted in his conversation with the owner is that it was Ramadan.  During Ramadan you can not eat or drink anything during daylight hours and this obviously is not easy when you run a restaurant.

This year Ramadan is from August 11th to September 9th, next year it will be August 1st to the 29th.  Ramadan shifts in the calendar each year and is moving closer and closer to the longest day of the year for the northern hemisphere, in 2015 the summer solstice will be during Ramadan.

In the middle east the length of the day is moderately consistent all year long, as short as ten hours to as long as 14 hours depending on where you are.   In Victoria at the moment we have 14 and half hours of daylight.   Our longest day is 16 hours and 10 minutes long, a very long day during Ramadan in 2015.  This is long, but not impossible, what happens if you are living north of 60 degrees?   At that point the longest day is 19 hours long or longer.   I have no idea what a Muslim in Yellowknife will do in 2015, and there is a community there.

Pizza Allnite is one of about 20 local businesses that sponsor a Ramadan and prayer calendar so that people know the exact times they can eat and when they should be praying.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Off to Pizza Allnite for dinner

I am going to meet Terry Glavin at Pizza Allnite for some dinner at 5:30.   It will be interesting to see what he thinks of the food given all the time he has been spending in Afghanistan.

It is through Terry that I have been gaining insight into what Afghanistan is like as a country and the very fact that even though there are numerous ethnic groups, there is a sense of an Afghan nationality.  

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pizza Allnite, again

I just thought I would quickly add that I had a chance to order their pizza the other day and it is actually very good, certainly better than the chains and most of the small pizza joints.   It is not Prima Strada, but then that is a completely different product.  Pizza Allnite is the classic small independent North American pizza joint pizza

What makes their pizza good is a high quality dough, a good tomato sauce and not overloading the pizza with cheese and toppings.   There is care and attention to the details, these people do care about good food and deliver an authentic well made product.

When in future we order in pizza in, it will be from here and not from anywhere else.

I should note they have stopped doing the pizza by the slice, that was their weak point and they have recognized that their warming oven was ruining their well made pizzas.  In my last review I made negative comments about the pizza by the slice.

Pizza Allnite on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Meatball Redux

OK, after I thought about the  köttbullar, swedish meatballs, recipe in the Ikea cookbook and how it had a textural similarity to gnocchi, I decided to fake it today.

I had about a kilo of pot roast, I ground that with about 200 grams of bacon and 250 grams of stale bread.  I added 300 grams of panko bread crumbs, one egg and two cups of buttermilk to this mixture to get the right sort of texture.   I added Montreal steak spice, garlic powder and dry dill.  

I formed 1.9 ounce meatballs and fried them in oil and butter.   I used a low heat and browned them off.  I then baked them.   

They have a decent texture, though not the right flavour, thought that is not surprising given the spices I added.  I am happy I have a feel for what they should be like in my hands.  I am confident that I could make a decent meatball from now on.

I would provide a picture, but our camera was stolen in Manning Park and we need to wait for the insurance to pay out to get a new one.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Eating at IKEA in Richmond

A picture from the Ikea Cookbook
I actually like to eat here because I love the meatballs  - köttbullar.   The restaurant is well priced and offers beer - having a beer in the middle shopping for semi disposable Swedish Furniture is real bonus.  It also helps that I feel a close kinship to Sweden, my family is part of the Swedish nobility and the food and drink is similar to what I grew up as a Baltic German.   To put me in more of a Swedish mood, while I am writing this I am watching Wallander, the British one with Kenneth Branagh

I was first introduced to Swedish meatballs in the summer of 1975 when I was nine and traveled on the Silja line ship Bore I.   I was on the ship with my parents and aunt Sabine on our way from Stockholm to Turku/Abo in Finland.   It was for dinner that I had them for the first time with the luscious gravy and the ligonberry sauce.   That ship also introduced me to my first smörgåsbord which I noted to my mother at the time was very much like what our table looked like for Christmas dinner.

Ikea is the McDonald's of Swedish food.   The meatballs are the same in all the countries were I have tried them -Canada, the UK and Germany. In fact everything is the same in the restaurants and the whole store.

My mother tried to make the meatballs, but did not succeed.   I have had trouble reproducing the lightness of the texture of the meatballs.   When they are good they have a consistency much like gnocchi, which is not surprising as they both have potatoes as their main starch.  Ikea is the only place where I can find decent meatballs in these parts.

I went as far as to buy their cookbook to get the recipe.   They recommend buying their own, but did provide a recipe though light on the details:

  • 250g mince pork
  • 250g mince beef
  • 1 egg
  • 200-300 ml of cream and water
  • 2 1/2 tbsp onion chopped fine
  • 50 ml unsweetened rusk flour - grind up a rusk to get the flour
  • 2 cold boiled potatoes - no mention of size
  • 4-5 tbsp of butter, marg or oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Basically you fry the onions in the fat, mash the potatoes and then mix it all together, form the balls with two spoons and finally fry slowly in the oil or butter.   As I said, light on technique.

Since we have a decent meat grinder on our Kitchenaid, I think I will try to make this recipe work.  Details and pics when it is done.

Meanwhile, for all of you that curse the Ikea shopping process and furniture assembly, check out this post by Barry Link - The 10 Stages of Ikea.

IKEA Restaurant & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 9, 2010


This year I have been making a lot of jams, nothing fancy, but very fruity ones.   I am making them all with Pomona's pectin which means I use a lot less sugar than normal, about 1 cup of sugar per four cups of fruit.  I have been giving a lot away this year and people have been raving about them.

I would post a picture, but our camera was stolen last week in the interior.   The old small camera we have is wonky and not taking great pics.   I will try to get some pics up here later.

I have an excess of Strawberry and Blueberry jam.  I expect to have an excess of Blackberry jam as well.   With all the blueberries we got the other week, I need to make the berries into jam because I am out of freezer space.

I would love to continue giving jam away, but I can not afford to give it away all the time.   I am happy to provide anyone interested with jam for $5 per 250 ml jar.   This is what I charged for jam in 2003 and 2004 when I sold it at the Whistler's farmer's market at my fruit and veg stall.

If you have an excess of fruit, drop me a line and we can talk about me making it into jam for you or I can teach you how to do it.  I like canning and want to see more if it happening, I can help with all manner of canning.

Friday, August 6, 2010

food and advertising

We have looked at why, genetically, we might crave high calorie, high fat food. We talked about our tendency to replace wholesome food with processed food in the name of time-saving. Is that the whole story? Not likely. There is more to this. Discipline and thoughtfulness help, making intelligent, informed choices helps, but neither are the whole story. One of the other big pieces is environment.

I am not talking about the global warming type environment, I am talking about the world around us. The world in which we work, play and live our lives everyday. Our modern environment is rich in stimulus. Rich in input. Rich in media.

Michael Mink did a study on advertising that showed that seventeen percent of ads on television are about food and that those were dominated by fast food restaurants and pop manufacturers. This probably doesn't surprise anyone, but what might is that even the grocery store ads were dominated by processed, unhealthy foods. What a challenge this provides for our brains. Constant bombardment of imagery and sound pushing us to food that, if we were to eat it full-time, offers twenty-five times the daily recommended sugar, twenty times the recommended fat and only half the recommended dairy, fruit and vegetables.

I do not even have cable and I am still exposed to a lot of food ads. Recently McDonald's is running a series of ads that all end by panning down the front of a woman's body to a tray full of McDonald's food. What does imagery of a slender woman's body have to do with McDonald's food? She is in one of their uniforms, but the long slow pan is just slightly sexual, and I find nothing about McDonald's food sexy. The ad doesn't make me want their food, but I am thinking about them, which is not the norm for me, so the campaign has achieved something. A more realistic ad would feature some slumpy overweight person with that food on their plate.

How do we combat this permeation of the airwaves too much food, and not enough nutrition? I have no answer. Awareness helps. Knowing they are, rather more literally than I am comfortable with, trying to seduce you into eating their fare, helps.

I just wish their was some way to have restaurants charge for food what is costs us to eat it. Perhaps contributions to those programs aimed at dealing with health problems related to overeating and being overweight. Programs that address diabetes, heart disease, weight reduction and eating disorders. Paying for scooters and oversize lifts that hospitals must invest in to move patients over three hundred pounds. If you are not Shaquille O'Neal, measuring in at 7 foot one inch, why do you weigh over three hundred pounds?

More simply still, and certainly less costly for everyone, why are they not spending more time and effort promoting healthy food? Is the mark-up on a cheeseburger that much better than on a salad in a plastic clam shell? If these restaurants have seen the need to have healthier choices on their menus, why do I rarely see them advertised? Why do grocery stores advertise the salty greasy chips that I love, but not the great deal they have on cucumbers, which I also love? Why, when we are being told to shop the perimeter of these stores as much a possible (where the least processed food resides) is the advertising derived from those central aisles?

When I think of that McDonald's commercial, I remind myself it is a clever campaign. I remind myself that, regardless of any gut promptings, I do not want the burger sitting on the tray at the end of the pan shot. I think they have a good advertising firm and a great advertising budget. I wish they would spend it on something else though.

evolving tastes

On a recent CBC Radio edition of “The Main Ingredient” they were talking about fat. Something that caught my ear was the idea of a “North American Paradox”, which is the fact that though we, as a society, have huge amounts of information and research available on nutrition and the dangers of obesity we are a continent whose people are getting fatter and fatter. In the last 19 years Canadian measured obesity rates have increased almost ten percent. With all this very good information, why are we getting fatter? With all the ads on TV promoting diets and gyms and magazines glorifying the super slim celebrity of the week, why aren't we the slimmest people on earth?

A big part of the answer is very simple. We like high calorie, fatty foods. They are good. As Jennifer McLagan, author of FAT: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient says “fat is flavor”. This may seem a silly reason, but I think it sums up a lot of our difficulty with embracing lower fat foods.

Where does this love of fat and calories come from? There is the taste factor. Foods that taste good tend to make us want to eat more of them. Easy. The other part is more hind brain, more evolutionary. We are now the dominant species on the planet, with excellent food resources, but this is a recent development. Not too long ago we were subject to frequent periods of insufficient, or poor quality, food and were vulnerable to severe illnesses.

During our rise to dominance, a lust for high calorie, sweet and fatty foods were evolutionary gold. Those who were willing to go that extra mile to collect honey, take that extra risk that would mean meat on the table, work those extra hours to ensure a successful cereal or starch crop were evolutionary winners. Greedy mouths ensured that when we didn't have enough food around us, or we fell victim to some dire illness, our bodies had the reserves to survive. This isn't just my opinion either, Michael L. Power and Jay Schulkin in their book, The Evolution of Obesity discuss a similar theory.

Modern man has descended from evolutionary gluttons. We are the products of those with genetics that made them good at efficiently processing and storing calories. We are fighting some heavy hind-brain promptings to store up fat for the famine. The problem with these prompting is that there is no famine on the horizon and our medicines keep most diseases at bay.

Most of us are still eating as if we have a famine around the corner, when most of us will never face one. Instead of fatty, rich food being treats that we had to work hard to get, we are inundated by a constant barrage of them. We can always eat red meat, cereal is something that comes to us in boxes, and honey and sugar can be bought in litres and kilos. We are the victims of our own evolutionary success.

None of this is an okay for our bad habits. I am just trying to acknowledge that eating lower calorie, higher fibre, lower fat foods is not the no-brainer it may seem. The current model certainly isn't working. Our eating habits are killing us with ever increasing speed and in a growing variety of ways. Research has shown that being even mildly obese increases our risk of developing cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The constant flow of fatty food is coating our blood vessels. Low fibre diets are leaving our intestines overworked and roughed up, hotbeds for the development of the mutated cells that become cancer. High caloric intake is leaving some bed or scooter bound and others warming ever increasing sections of the bench as their bodies break down at alarming rates.

The first step is to develop our awareness that this won't be easy, that we have an inborn love of fatty, calorie laden foods. We need to apply the power of those big brains that granted us evolutionary success to the problem of the primitive yearnings of our hind-brains and guts. Then we need to find ways to change our eating habits so that they keep us healthy and lean while satisfying our cravings so we don't keep falling into bad habits.

You may have noticed that I have used our and we a lot. This isn't a royal kind of we, and is only partly a species embracing type of we, it is a we that comes from my need to lose a few pounds. Some would say that as someone needing to lose some weight I am not in a position to offer advice. I think that since I live this process, that I struggle, as so many do, to find a balance, I am the perfect person. What do I do? I work to find ways to incorporate herbs and spices for their big flavour bang at low caloric costs. I have small amounts of fat to satiate those cravings. I keep junk food out of my house, mostly. And I fail, some days I eat the wrong thing, or too much of a not so bad thing. Then I try not to feel bad, I accept it, and get back on track.

Keep in mind we need to eat. This is not an optional activity. We enjoy it too. Shouldn't we be able to combine enjoyable eating with intelligent eating? I talked about using our big brains to help us, keep in mind what they need to work: “Although the brain represents only 2% of the body weight, it receives 15% of the cardiac output, 20% of total body oxygen consumption, and 25% of total body glucose utilization.” Your big brain is not an organ that diets, not without consequences to your mental acuity, mood, and memory. If you want to use this tool to help govern your eating, you need to keep it fuelled so it can work.

Figs and Birds!

The birds are at my fig tree early this year.   They are going after all the ripe figs and I suspect I will end up without almost any to eat.   I have no idea how to stop them from getting almost all of the figs.  In 2007 we had planned to have figs at our wedding but the damned birds cleaned us out two days beforehand.

I suspect I need to trim the size of the tree and figure out some sort of netting system to ensure we get our fair share of the fruit.

Any ideas from anyone else out there?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Getting some trades

A friend is trading me some jellies from Lori Pater of Jilly Jelly here in Victoria for my blueberry jam.   I am looking forward to trying the raspberry chocolate jam and the lime cilantro jelly.

I have a lot more jam available in 250 ml jars......  make me an offer

Blueberries - lots and lots of blueberries

We bought 170 pounds of blueberries on Monday at a farm on 56th street in Tsawwassen.

I negotiated a price a week earlier and got a good deal - $1.35 a pound. There was on problem.   We had a time issue with getting them frozen and discovered that we had too many blueberries to be able to freeze them, we overloaded the fridge freezer and the basement freezer.

It was a good thing I did not get the 100 pounds of peaches I had planned on, there is no way that I could have managed to process all that fruit in a day and certainly I could not fit in the freezers.

We ate about 15 pounds fresh and I made 20 jars of jam and six of puree from about 15 more pounds.   This tells me that we can not handle more than 100 pounds of fruit in our freezers at one time.  By the way, if you want some jam, please drop me a line.

The jam is low sugar and we had it last night on stone wheat thins with Brie - very, very good.

I had hoped to be making red huckleberry jam, the crop in the Shuswap this year is phenomenal.    I have never seen the plants so full.  It was easy to pick a cup in five minutes or less.  I have always wanted to make some jam from wild fruits but have never been in a spot to be able to do it because I have never found the fruit in quantity.

Finally, if you are interested, I have a lot of figs just ripening, please come and get some, we will not eat more than a handful