Thursday, December 29, 2011

Good Fortune in Sidney

A week of so ago we ended in Sidney at dinner time and were looking for somewhere to eat

We used Urbanspoon to see what there was in Sidney and ended up at the Good Fortune Chinese restaurant.   The rating made us consider it.

The place is clearly a busy restaurant as it was not yet 6 and it was filling up.   Though this may have something to do with being in Sidney and the average age there.....

We had dinner for six as that is the easiest and fastest when we have all the boys with us.   The food was decent but not worth the drive to Sidney to go there.   It is no better than Royal Palace or Jacks.   The ginger fried beef was good but not as good as many of the people that have reviewed on Urbanspoon.   The war wonton was acceptable.

The price was more than I would expect for this quality of and style of Chinese food.   Good and interesting Chinese food is something I miss from Vancouver.   I know of no decent seafood oriented ones here in Victoria. I would love to have a Buddhist one - I miss being able to get sweet and sour sticky delight.   The regions are not represented well at all, almost all of it is is a variation on Canadian Chinese cuisine.   The lettuce wraps we had were the most adventurous thing Golden Fortune offered, thought it is in part out fault for not choosing ala cart.

This is one more example of people in Victoria accepting mediocre food as reasonable.   There is no way this restaurant would get an 84% rating in the lower mainland.

Good Fortune on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 16, 2011

Not Food....

This is Anthony Sanna of the Ambrosia Event Centre.   Is a passionate local foodie and supporter of local agriculture

Monday, December 12, 2011

Making my own chocolate

I got the cacao beans last week and I winnowed the beans so that I was left with the nibs.   How hard could it be to grind up the nibs into a liquid?   I managed to make peanut butter at home in the food processor, chocolate should not be much harder, right?

I ran the food processor for some time, a lot longer than I expected, and all I ended up with was something of the consistency of coffee grounds for drip coffee with a bit of espresso grind mixed in.  I put this stuff into a propeller type coffee grinder and thought I reduced down fine enough.

Ground chocolate nibs being melted, sort of 
I had not expected to end up with the chocolate liquor at this point as I knew the melting temperature of cacao fat is higher than that of peanut oil.   I put the dust into a pot and put it on the stove.   Initially I thought there was some success as very quickly some fat was released and all of the dust was looking as if it was damp.  

Unfortunately this was as good as it got.  It did not melt into the chocolate liquor I thought it would.

I added some milk and sugar to it to see if the addition of this would aid the melting.   Not really.   I ended up with a fairly solid grainy mass that tasted like chocolate but had a bitter grit within it.  The underlying flavour is actually pretty good.

Turns out grinding your cacao nibs small enough is the single biggest problem with trying to make your own chocolate at home.  I am not the only one that has had this problem.  I also now understand why in the history of chocolate it took so long to get to the chocolate bar, it takes industrial equipment to grind the stuff fine enough.  The first chocolate bar only comes about in 1847 even thought chocolate drinking came to Europe in  the 17th century.  

I am going to try and see if I can rescue what I have.  I am also going to buy some more cacao beans and experiment some more.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cacao Beans from the Mexican House of Spice

The Mexican House of Spice, 2220 Douglas Street, has many interesting things available for purchase, one of them we found the last time we were in were cacao beans.   For $3.25, how could I resist?
bowl of roasted cacao beans

I have read about how chocolate is produced, but the closest I have come to the raw product is either cacao powder of large slabs of bakers chocolate.  Seeing them in the store piqued my interest right away.  I have no idea what I am going to do with them, but it is always fun to play around with a less processed ingredient.  Better understanding of my food can only lead to more respect for the product and more options of what I can do with it.

bowl of cacao nibs
The beans, about 60 of them, are dried and roasted but have not had their papery skin removed.   They sort of look a bit like misshapen almonds.  They range in size from the size of peanut to the size of a large almond.

They do not have strong smell at this point.

At lunch today I removed the skins from a bunch of the beans to expose the nib.    The nib is actually a whole bunch of segments and fall apart fairly easily into smaller pieces.

I tried some of the nibs.   I scrapped the nib over my teeth.   It has a very interesting texture, I am not sure how to describe it.   I would not call it chalky, but it certainly grinds off very fine.   I assume the texture comes from them being more than half fat.   the flavour was very mild at first but finished with a very interesting bitter chocolate flavour at the end.   I can see how this could work as a spice, it would go very well with things like nutmeg, cardamon, and cinnamon, especially cinnamonum verum or Ceylon cinnamon (which the Mexican House of Spice carries as Mexican cinnamon).

The next step will be to grind the beans to make cacao paste and then melt it to make chocolate liquor.   I might do that tonight or over the weekend.

cacao nib

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Whole Beast - Artisan Salumeria

I have been meaning to write about the amazing new charcuterie on Oak Bay Avenue, the Whole Beast.   I am very much impressed with the product and even more so at how reasonable the prices.  Cory Pelan is doing something amazing at his shop.

The space was previously the bakery/coffeeshop Kadalima, a decent enough place but not one I would cross the city for.   The Whole Beast shares the space with the Village Butcher, to which there is a natural synergy.  

The whole foodie movement going on is creating a lot of new decent suppliers of all manner products, but I find most of them very expensive for what you get and often the quality of the product is only slightly better than existing products.  The Whole Beast is not like that at all.   The product is very good and the prices are very reasonable.

So far I have had some of the salami, the chorizo, some other sausages, and bacon.  I have yet to have anything that was not of a superior quality.

The one thing I should note is that their salami is nothing like the commercial varieties.   It is not a fat and evenly round tube of  meat.   Cory's salami is much thinner and not uniformly round.  He also uses a much coarser grind/chop of the meat.   This means his salami is not really well designed to be a sandwich meat.   This does not mean it is a bad salami, it just means it is a different product which has different uses.

My single big problem with the Whole Beast is the location, and this is my problem and not something that is the fault of the shop.    Being on Oak Bay Avenue means it is not close to where I live and actually not close to any other place I shop at.   Getting there is something I do at most once every few months.  I am certain that over the next three weeks I will get there to buy cured meats for Christmas but after that it is likely to be months before I get back.

That said, there is an increasing number of suppliers located over in Oak Bay that I do like - Slater's Meats, Octavio and now the Whole Beast.  

Here is their list of products:
Our rotating product list:
PROSCIUTTO (about six months away)
GUANCIALE (smoked or non-smoked)
KISZKA (liver and heart)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kefir Grains For Sale

The grains I have are multiplying like crazy, enough so that I have excess I need to sell.    What I am offering is 200 grams of grains in a 500ml jar filled with 1% milk for $10.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A different kind of cooking....

In my work world I have been learning about and playing with aromatherapy products since my student days. I have often found essential oils and products derived from them to be effective, gentle, natural and affordable options for health and beauty uses. This may seem a strange addition to a food blog but I find when I work with the oils the process is much the same as cooking. I use many of the same tools and much the same premise. I take good ingredients, pick ones that suit my purpose and that should mix well and then I work to create a product that is appealing to the senses.

Recently I decided to turn aromatherapy into more of a business than a hobby. I have created a line of products for sale in my office and am selling some baby products at the Mothering Touch. I have also been welcoming custom orders for products and providing access to direct order essential oils from my supplier.

For Christmas I have decided to put together a few small gift packages and welcome custom orders of the same. I am also happy to discuss putting together products for corporate giving or fundraisers.

Follow the links throughout this post to learn more and then contact me to order or to ask more questions.

The London Chef

I had waited with anticipation the opening of The London Chef, at 953 Fort Street. The concept of this space is of a foodie's haven of cooking classes and food parties. Despite my curiosity I didn't get into the shop until late in the summer as I just wasn't in that part of town often. Since I began teaching infant massage next door at the Mothering Touch (975 Fort) though I have weekly opportunities to be in the shop.

My first visit was actually my job interview for the teaching gig when I was surprised to discover that a small cafe and retail area was attached to the shop, something I hadn't known. This cafe is where I will start. Selling coffee, pastries and lunches the cafe is an expanded breezeway really but it is filled with things to intrigue every foodie.

On the retail front the fridge is stuffed with house made sausage from Stage restaurant and there are frozen stocks and sauces too. The shelves to the left of the sales counter are filled with cookbooks from some of the most prominent chef's of today (Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck caught my eye especially). There are also vinegars, reductions and flavoured salts (coffee?!?!?) to tempt you too.

In terms of the actual cafe items I have tried a selection. The coffee and espresso is definitely up to standard and the soup I had one day was delicious. Some of the baked goods though haven't been so overwhelming. I have had one of the savory open tarts (leek and goat cheese) and though tasty enough the puff pastry was quite pale and, as a result, lacked the crisp flakiness I prefer. Same can be said of the "breadsticks", which are actually puff pastry sticks with a small sprinkling of cheese and caraway seeds (Bernard was pretty pleased with the caraway) but that didn't compensate for the slightly limp pastry. I have tried some of the sweet pastries to and the same applies. Nothing bad, but I am still waiting to be dazzled.

The bulk of the space is set up in a squared "u" of work stations with a larger teaching station in the open side of the "u". There is also a large (like sit 30 large) beautiful wooden table to the side for dining. There is selection of cooking classes taught here and you can book private cook and eat events in the evenings.

Tuesday at noon is the event I have been most intrigued by. Called "lunch and learn" and running from noon to one this event allows you to come in and get a lunch that you get to watch being made. The menu shifts and focuses sometimes on a culture (i.e. Arabian) or a food (ie. the hamburger). There are munchies for you when you arrive and you then get an interactive demo by the chef and his assistant that culminates in the delivery of your main course (usually around twenty or quarter to one to give you some time for eating). I haven't actually attended but I am often in the cafe during the classes and the atmosphere seems fun and friendly. Judging by the papers the audience are generally clutching I am guessing you get recipes too. At a cost of $25 it is an expensive lunch - but a pretty good deal for an hour long cooking class/entertainment.

Lasagna and the new ricotta

My brother-in-law recently gifted us with a copy of Air Canada's en Route magazine's annual food trends issue. An interesting read and I was tickled to discover that several of BC's best restaurants are on my "I've been there" list. Part of the interest was the discovery that one of the new restaurant trends this year is "house-made ricotta". I found this interesting because on a recent trip to one of our friendly neighbourhood warehouse stores I saw, for the first time ever, a ricotta that didn't come in a tub. Intriguing, even the warehouse stores are getting trendy! This ricotta came shrink wrapped in plastic and looked closer to mozzarella in texture.

Of course the real interest for foodies is - what did I do with this new item? Answer - I made lasagna.

I made the pasta dough, made the meat sauce, and finally cracked the ricotta. I wasn't sure what to expect. Would I be able to slice this new ricotta? Would it mix well with the spinach, egg and cheese or would I have to use it separately?

When I opened it I discovered that it would slice, and dice well enough, but that it also crumbled into a much drier version of the tub ricotta's small pieces. I was able to mix my ricotta/spinach layer easily though I came out with a drier result - not a bad thing from my point of view. I dislike runny lasagna.

After assembly and baking we ended up with a lovely lasagna that was not runny at all. I can not say I noted any flavour difference, but it was nice to created a drier ricotta mix. Thicker sauce and drier ricotta made for a nicely cohesive and stable lasagna. The bit of lemon zest I put into the ricotta mixture though came through beautifully.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Working with the kefir

I do not have pictures of the kefir, when I get a chance I will post some.   So how is it going with the kefir making?   Very well.

I am working the kefir heavily and this means my grains have more than doubled since I got my grains.  I have grains to spare now and if you want some, drop me a line and I can give you some.

Many people drink it kefir, but this does not appeal to me, it might work as part of a smoothie, but on its own it does not do it.  I like the tang of the kefir better than the normal yogurt flavour and I am trying to eat 250 grams of kefir yogurt per day.  

I am letting it get quite firm and then I separate out the grains.   Once the grains are out, I strain it through a jelly bag to get it to a fairly thick consistency.   There are two consistencies a I aim for, one about the consistency of yogurt or sour cream, the second the thickness of ricotta.

I process between 1.5 and 1.8 litres of milk every 24 to 48 hours.  The jars I use can hold up to 2 litres but the grains take some space and I leave some space at the top.   For the yogurt consistency I get about 50% of the volume of the milk I started with.   For the ricotta consistency it get about 35-40% of the volume of the milk I started with.

The kefir has more or less replaced all of our yogurt, sour cream and soft fresh cheese uses in the house.   It works very well as a replacement for sour cream, and has a much lower fat content.  I work with 1% milk, which means my sour cream consistency kefir has about a 2% milk fat content.

The ricotta consistency kefir is about 3% milk fat, making it a very low fat fresh cheese.    I could make it firmer still by pressing out more of the whey.   Adding a bit of salt and herbs and you have a very nice cream cheese.

Meanwhile, I am getting all this whey, what do I do with it?  I am throwing it out because I have no idea what I can use it for.  In a quick internet search, I have some interesting uses for it.  I guess I will not longer be throwing it out.

Cost of yogurt consistency is about $2.30 a litre, for the fresh cheese consistency it costs about $3.40 a kilogram.   This is dramatically cheaper than what it costs in the store and it is better for me.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why did no one tell me about this place?

I apologize for the bad photos as my smart phone camera sucks
 I was walking down Johnson Street and thinking I needed to do something about lunch when I stumbled on Skinny Tato.   I saw that it was Polish food and given my background as a Baltic German, Polish cuisine is a cousin of the food I grew up with.

I have been dreaming of having a Russian restaurant in this city, the Baltic German food experience is most heavily influenced by the Russians.   In the absence of Russian food, Estonian, Finnish, Swedish or Polish is the next tier of home cooking for me.  To suddenly find a Polish restaurant made me stop and walk in.

The owner is a friendly woman originally from Poland 25 years ago.  She spent 24 years in Edmonton and has been here for the last year and opened the restaurant seven months ago.   The space is nothing fancy but that does not matter where there is good food.  There are only seven tables and total seating for just over 20 people.  My fear is we will be seeing lineups soon enough here.

The menu was short but what I expected.  Potato pancakes, cabbage rolls, perogies, and goulash were all there on the menu.   I happen to love a good potato pancake and I will never get bored of goulash, so I ordered the goulash filled pancake.   It came with a cup of soup to start which was wonderful, though I can not remember exactly what it was now!  It was a tomato soup with orange in it, sounds a bit off, but works really well.  I am going to have to consider the orange/tomato combo in cooking.

The funny thing is I just made potato pancakes and goulash for dinner on Sunday night so ordering it for lunch today allowed me a very good comparison.   The meal is a single large pancake with the goulash inside it.   It reminded me of the look and feel of meals I have eaten in Poland, Finland, and Estonia.

The pancake was light and crispy, better than most of the ones I made on Sunday.   The goulash was mildly spicy but reminded me that a good goulash has a bite to it and I have been keeping mine too mild.   The goulash was also light, though that is the wrong.  My goulash on Sunday was bordering on stodgy, this was the opposite.

The potato pancake with goulash came with two small salads out of a choice of four on the menu.  I chose the potato salad and the Skinny Tato salad, which is a light white cabbage based slaw.

The potato salad was the best I have ever had in my life, period.   It has all the stuff I would put in a potato salad, but the results are amazing.   Light and refreshing are words I would never connect with a potato salad, but that is what comes to mind when I think of it.

I am not a fan of cabbage based slaws.  Whenever I get them I simply give them to Sheila but since I was alone I ate it.   It was light and refreshing (yes I am repeating myself) and I could have eaten a whole bowl of it for lunch.  It was the perfect rendition of a Polish style cabbage salad/slaw.

Sharlotka Cake
I had to have the desert as it was a Sharlotka cake.   It is very reminiscent of the sort of cakes my Tante Nata used to make.  It was good and not overly sweet and something I do not think I could make

Once again to my question of every restaurant, could I do better at home or would it be easier?   No.  I might be able to equal the pancake and goulash, but the soup, salads and cake are beyond what I could do.

Skinny Tato Polish Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 30, 2011

Kefir grains

I am looking for kefir grains so that I can start marking kefir yogurt again.  For a couple of years I had an active kefir culture going and I enjoyed the resulting product.  I even made some cheese from it.

The process is easy enough, you take the grains. put them into a canning jar with milk filled to the 3/4 mark and leave it out but not in the light.   After 24 hours you have your kefir yogurt.   You then strain out the grains and save them for your next batch.   The stuff you just made you store in the fridge and it will keep for a few days.  

The resulting product is a runny yogurt that has a strong tang to it.    It works really well in any sort of drink you want to make with it or on top of things like granola.   The stuff is also supposed to be wicked good for you, but that does not interest me as much as I like to eat it and work with it in my cooking.

The grains are small rubbery nodules, they are also a living bacterial culture.  When you make kefir yogurt the amount of kefir grains you have increases over time, this means you have grains you can share with others.   You can also kill your grains if you do not look after them properly.   This is what I did and that was the end of my kefir days.  

So, this is my request, if anyone out there knows of a source of kefir grains here in Victoria, please let me know so that I can go back to making kefir.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Apple Festival on Saltspring

This year's Saltspring Island Organic Apple Festival is this coming Sunday  and you should start at the Fulford Harbour Hall.  Last year they had 296 varieties at the hall.

There are orchards opening their gates elsewhere on the island, details at the Fulford Harbour Hall.

Panel talk on Food Security

This should be an interesting talk, the people involved are certainly broadminded and open to thoughts and ideas.   I do find that some parts of the Food Security Movement are close minded and see this is the latest campaign to attack the "System"

A Transition Victoria Food Group Networking Event / Panel Discussion:

This will be an opportunity to network with others in Food Security, to learn about and get involved with Transition Food Group Projects, Upcoming Events and Happening .

The panel discussion theme is: "What steps can we take to be food secure?"

  • What are the actions to increase food security short, medium and long run that we can take?
  • How can we connect the groups and organizations actively promoting food security and connect to them?
  • What public policies do we need to support greater food security?


  • Carolyn Herriot, The Garden Path
  • Philippe Lucas, City of Victoria Councillor, and Victoria Downtown Public Market Society (VDPMS)
  • Gabe Epstein, Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers (GTUF)
  • Linda Geggie, Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiative Roundtable (CR-Fair)

Moderator: Anthony Sanna, VIVA-Raw and Ambrosia Conference and Events Centre.

Admission by donation. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Panel discussion starts at 7:15 p.m. Come early to network. Refreshments will be provided. Limited seating.

To volunteer or offer your assistance in the planning of this event, please contact Food Group Coordinator Linda Chan at 250 380 6383 or

Please feel free to offer suggestions on the types of activities and topics etc that you would like the Food Group to do in the future.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Delicious - a local Victoria TV show on Shaw

Since I do not get cable, I never see local cable TV, ever.   This is particularly odd for me as I am often one of the people asking questions on Voice of BC.

It was only the other day that I heard about the show from the host Aaron Hall.    I know Aaron from his interest in local governance issues.

The show is called Delicious and is short episodes focusing on the food scene in this city.

Here are some of the episodes

Gluten Free Bagels

Delicious presents Gluten-free Bagels from John Quick on Vimeo.

Fernwood Bites

Delicious presents Fernwood Bites 2011 from John Quick on Vimeo.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Zucchini Madness

So finally the freaking zucchini plants are taking off!  Now comes the age old question, what do I do with them all?

We have eaten in stews, we have grilled them, we have made them into noodles, we have eaten them raw (well Stephen has, not me).   Where to now?

I could go out and give them away anonymously - drop on your drop step in the middle of the night.   Sort of a drive by zucchining.

To the more serious take on all this, how can I store or preserve them for the winter?   For a few years now I have been trying to come up with ways to preserve the excess zucchini but I am not having much luck in that.  

I have shredded and frozen them with the intent of using the zucchini in the winter in zucchini bread, but ultimately it just sits there at the bottom of the freezer aging long enough that I end up throwing it out.  I have tried drying them, but the resulting chip is bland dry and does not seem to re-hydrate well.

I have tried looking online but very little has come out of that other than what I have already done.   Pickles do come up, but I am not a pickle person and zucchini pickles really do not appeal to me.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

I you have excess fruit, I will process if for you.
  • I can make jams and jellies
  • I can do dried fruits and fruit leather   
  • I can also do apple sauce and fruit purees
  • I can can tomatoes or make tomato sauce
  • I have a Victorio foodmill that is amazing a seperating fruit from skin and seeds.
  • I have a apple peeler/corer/slicer that quickly makes apples into rings
  • I have a pressure canner

I can fill jars in 125, 250, 500 and 1000 ml sizes.  I have regular and wide mouth jars

What will I charge you?  Nothing if you provide the jars.   What I ask is that I get to keep half of the fruit.  If you want me to provide the jars, I will ask $1 per jar no matter the size.

You will notice that there are two things I did not list - pickles or juice.   I have never gotten into making pickles and I do not have the right equipment to easily juice fruit.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How does my garden grow?

Scarlet runner beans are ready
This year I put in more effort than the last couple of years, but the year has been an odd one.   This summer has been the driest in my neighbourhood since the UVic Weather Network starting keeping data in 2005.  At the same time it has been the coolest summer and not by a small amount, but 1.5 degrees in June and July.

Everything is way behind.   I am only now getting into major zucchini production.   Today was the first day I had a serious surplus.  The same is true of the scarlet runner beans this year.  I have green beans to harvest, but the tomatoes are way behind as are the cucumbers.   I am worried I planted them in a location where the soil is not that fertile or is too acidic.

2011 zucchini plants
This year I moved most of our herbs onto the sundeck so that we would make more use of them.   We have used more, but I have also been on top of the more so they are generally do better.   We have almost enough basil for a pesto.  We have an abundance of parsley.    Or new oregano plant is a happy camper.
Sage on the sundeck

Our rosemary is a serious bush now, I am not sure why it took off, but it has and it means we have enough rosemary to last us forever.  

Nearby are the thornless blackberries.  We have a week left of August and they are still not ready to harvest.   I finally have enough canes that there is enough fruit to do something small.   When we moved in there was a single cane that had been ignored for some time it would seem.

My strawberries have finally expanded to the point where we get a harvest, though the timing was weird and the weather did them no favours.   The location is also a spot in the yard where we are not on a daily basis and I tend to neglect them.

My apple tree is a decent size that it should bear some fruit next year as will my apricot tree.  My fig once again has a huge crop again, but most of it is being eaten by the birds.  I like a few fresh figs but they are one of the few things I have tried to dry that has not worked well.   I am getting something wrong.

Given how well figs seem to grow here, I have no idea why there is no one in the CRD with an orchard of them.   Figs, like peaches, plums and nectarines, are soft treefruits that really do not travel well.  Local production trumps the stuff in the stores.
Rosemary bush
Thornless blackberry still not ready

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Selling jams and apple sauce

Last weekend was had a garage sale and I had my blueberry jam for sale.    People tend to not believe me that it is as good as it is.  It seems that many people really do not like blueberry jam because it can be overly sweet or cloying.  

My jam is a low sugar and made with some lemon juice in it.   The addition of the lemon juice gives the blueberry jam the little bit of tartness that is needed to make it sublime.    Without trying too hard, I sold bunch of the blueberry jam on Saturday.

Sheila recently was talking with one of her clients about the jams and apple sauce I make.   She brought some for the woman to try and she liked all three on offer and bought one blueberry, one strawberry and one apple sauce.

For a couple of years I sold my jams in Whistler at their farmer's market as part of my produce stand.   I had a lot of repeat customers.

I know I am biased, but my jams are the best I have ever tasted.   My strawberry jam tastes first and foremost like the fruit and not like something SWEET as so many jams do.   The same is true of raspberry or blackberry jams when I have them.   I tend not to sell my crab apple jelly as I only make a small amount each year and the effort is enough that I want to keep it all to myself.  In general I find jellies more hassle to make than they are worth.

The one 'jam' I make that I still have not managed to make dramatically better than others I have tasted is my cranberry one.  I make my cranberry sauce more like a jam in consistency, but there is still something missing from the flavour to make it sublime in the way my blueberry jam is.  I will continue to experiment and see if I can make something better.

If you are intrigued, they are for sale:

  • 125ml - $3
  • 250ml - $5
  • 500ml - $8

Currently I have:

  • Strawberry
  • Blueberry
  • Apple Sauce
  • Cranberry

Shortly there will be blackberry

Sheila has a POS machine, so people can pay with debit or credit card.

You can call us at 250-298-7501 if you are interested.

Should you wish to have your own fruit or jams canned, I can do that for you for $1 a jar ($1.50 a jar if I have to provide the jars).   I have a decent pressure canner and use it a lot.

I also make salsa and tomato sauce, though none will be available till September and then only for sale if I decide to produce more than we can use for the next year.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Italian Long Table Dining Series at Prima Strada

Last night we had dinner at Prima Strada on Bridge Street - it is walking distance from our home.   We once again had good pizza and good gelato.   A bit more about their pizza at the end.

While we were there we saw this long table set up with place setting - it looked like a long reserved table, I thought nothing more about this.   Turns out this was the table for the Italian Long Table Dining Series.

They hold this event on the last Wednesday and Thursday of the month and focus on the cooking of one region of Italy.    Everyone sits at one table and gets the same menu and wine pairings.   This month it was Campania.   On August 24th and 25th the region will be Sicily.

The cost is $50, which given the cost to have a decent meal with wine in this town is normally much higher is a good deal.

I have been thinking about the idea of a communal table and how it would be interesting to have a restaurant in this town have this as a set up for some meals to allow foodies to get to know each other.   With the Italian Long Table Dining Series, we will have a chance to try out regional food and talk with people who are likely to be just as much into food as we are.

Our intention is to go to one of the dinners soon, though we do not know if we can go in August.

Back to the pizza - they use a flour called Caputo 00 flour from Italy.   Apparently it is seen globally as the best flour to make pizza with.   The big difference seems to be that it is actually not that high in protein, only 11-12% and not 14-15% that most bread flours are.   It seems to be especially important for wood fired ovens.  I do think the dough in their pizzas are not like any others I have had, so there may be something to this flour.  

Pizzeria Prima Strada (Bridge St.) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


As I look out over my meager garden this year, I think back to when I picked fruit in the Okanagan as a lone anglo youth.   I talked a lot with the farmer to ask him about farming, especially the economics.   His answers made me really wonder why anyone would farm if there are so many risks and few realistic chances to make any money.   This year I have to wonder how the farmers in this region are managing.

This year everything is late, very late.    In my garden I was able to harvest my first zucchini yesterday, but it was not enough to for a meal - I picked them very small and took all of them I could find.

Most farmers would expect to be well in the deep of the harvest season, but that is simply not the case this year.   I look at the pumpkin field next to Michell's in Central Saanich and I am astonished to see how small the plants are, is there time for the fruit to set and ripen?

I can not imagine that there have been enough heat degree days to have any real start on grape production.   The east coast of Vancouver Island is by nature on the border of being able to ripen grapes for wine, but this year I am not sure that the grapes will harvestable if the weather does not dramatically improve this fall.

I know about bit about the climatic conditions for viticulture in BC because I worked on a project some years back to investigate the grape growing potential of Lillooet and Lytton.   At the time I was astonished to see how marginal the conditions were on the coast for grapes.   I was even more astonished when I visited some of the growers on the coast and found out they cropped at about 1.2 tonnes per acre, this is less than one third of what growers crop at in the Okanagan and under one quarter of Washington State and Oregon.

The only way grapes will ripen this year is if there is almost no crop on the plants which will mean a very low production of wine unless grapes are brought in from the Okanagan.

You can see Duncan, on the far end,
 is already much lower in degree days

This is what wine country in BC should look like

I have no idea how people growing field tomatoes will manage to harvest anything this year.  

Farmers are optimists, you could not farm if you did not believe that everything would work out perfectly.   The horrific weather this year could very likely see an end to many of the new small scale 'hobby' farmers we have seen go into production in this region.   You can only go so long losing money before you have to stop.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Village Restaurant in Sechelt and Moilly's Reach in Gibsons

Last week I was at the 2011 Pacific Jamboree at Camp Byng.

On the one day we went into Sechelt.   Beyond showering at the pool, crucial to me was getting some food from a restaurant.   I walked the main drag and did not see much in town that inspired me.   I ended up decided to try the Village Restaurant.   This was a good decision.

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The burgers are really, really worth it.   They form their own patties and you can tell.  The fries were crisp and hot, the gravy was clearly made fresh and not some over salted sludge from some unknown past era.   I had onion rings with my burger and they were perfectly done - not over cooked or greasy as onion rings often are.   The shake was THICK - they asked how thick or thin I wanted it and I went for the cheek sucking thickness.  Ben had a double patty burger and needed to use a knife and fork to finish it.

Not only was this very well down classic diner food, it was cheap.   My meal cost me about as much as I would have spent at a MacDonalds.  Three of us ate here for just over $30.

When I next pass through Sechelt, I will be eating here again.

Village on Urbanspoon

On Friday, after sailing for the first time in ages, we ate at Molly's Reach in Gibsons.   Molly's Reach was for many years the set for the Beachcombers.

In 1977 my parents took us on the Sunshine Coast circle tour and we ended up in Gibsons.   I saw Molly's Reach and in my 11 year old mind I did not think for a second that it would not be open to the public.  I pushed open the front door and walked to find myself on the active set of the show.   I am sure my father could see what I was going to do but his perverse sense of humour meant he let me walk in.

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Molly's Reach is now a restaurant.   It is clearly not a greasy spoon and is aimed at tourists.   Certainly it got us to go in and eat.   The restaurant no longer looks like Molly's Reach on the inside.

I was not really impressed with the food - it was ok but nothing to go out of my way to buy.   One example was the gravy with my fries - it was close to the worst sludge I have been served as a gravy - it has a skin on it that stuck to the fries and salty beyond edilble.   Just the day before I had one of the best gravies on the same coast.

The price was also not cheap.   For six of us I spent close to $100.   This is for lunch with no shakes and nothing special, just burgers and fries all around.

I can not see myself going back to the restaurant.

Molly's Reach on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 8, 2011

Some day I will get used to this climate, right?

Three things I am going to touch on today:

Here we are a week into July and my veggie garden still looks like it is spring time.   Nothing is growing like crazy, not zucchini plants spewing monster green fruits, no tomatoes that have set etc.....

I would take some pics, but that would depress me too much.  

What I have harvested so far:

  • 2 dozen radishes
  • Some micro greens - though here the chickens twice managed to eat all the greens
  • 4 pounds of strawberries
  • A dozen cherry tomatoes

Each of the last several years people have commented in May to July that it is a cool year and we are not getting the growth that we should expect.   Maybe this is normal here and the other is simply wishful thinking?

I hope that things will take off over the next week while I am gone at PJ 2011 on the Sunshine Coast.

Last week someone I have known for a few years asked to see my chicken set up and get my advice on how they could set up.   They live in Esquimalt.

This is the second person this year that I have given advice to on backyard chickens.

I will be gone at the 2011 Provincial Jamboree.   I will be eating a menu that does not excite and will be cooked for me by two 12 year olds and two thirteen year olds.   I suspect I will be eating less than normal while at the same time getting several hours of physical activity each day.   I will be on a Scout Jamboree diet and I may be able to reduce my current weight problem over the week.

Friday, July 1, 2011

O Bistro -

The other night we were supposed to go out to a political event but we were drained and tired and decided to blow it off and go eat somewhere else.

We both wanted a warm and quiet lounge as our ideal.   Nothing was really coming to mind so we thought we would go to the bar side of Vic's Steakhouse, we were there recently and generally happy with out experience.   In going there, I noticed the O Bistro at the Oswego Hotel.

What made me go in?   Honestly, the look of the logo of the restaurant and the front entrance of the hotel.   It was all modern, clean and interesting.   I would have headed right out again if what was inside did not match my expectations.   The place met not only with the expectations set by the images from outside, but it was exactly what we wanted.

The O Bistro is a small lounge/restaurant that has a clean, warm and modern feel to it.   I could see hanging out here for an evening of drinks and snacks with some friends.

The menu is short, but better short and good than long and mediocre.   There is another problem with the menu, the prices are too low.   They are low enough that it made me question the food quality and portion sizes that I would get.   Please do not let their criminally low prices dissuade you from eating here.

We ordered the humus and pita to start, $4 for what looked like about a cup of humus and a stack of nicely grilled pita bread.   The humus was light and very lemony and grilling the pita gave it that nice just about charred flavour on the outside of the bread.   Well done and a screaming deal.

I looked at the mains and the prices looked like ones I would expect to pay for starters.   Almost everything was $10 to $12.   I really wondered about this but I could see from the table next to us that the portions were decent sized.

I had a prawn dish - they sat on what I think was a mix of fennel and cabbage and topped with a small green salad.   The bowl was filled with an almost light borscht like broth.   The seven prawns were very well cooked, though I can not remember the how they were cooked other than they were perfectly done and succulent enough that I was sucking everything I could out of the tail shell.   Overall it looked like a upscale fine dining dish and it delivered.

Sheila has the spinach gnocchi for $12.   She got a very substantial bowl which allowed me to steal a few to try them.   The gnocchi were light but had a bit of a bite.   What I really liked is that they were fried in butter at the end.

We finished with desert.   This was the most amazing deal of all.   For $5 we got a cheesecake caramel that looked like it belonged in the cover on the cover of a food magazine.    The cheesecake was served as one would serve creme caramel.   There was this wonderful tuile sticking out of the top it.   The plate had a very light clear caramel like sauce with small dots of I think raspberry coulis in it.  

We told the waitress that the meal was wildly under priced and she agreed.   We also told her it was great food.   In the end she even gave us 20% off the food.   Our total food bill was just around $25.  Our booze bill was $13.

The food, atmosphere and price make this a place I have every intention of going back to on a regular basis.

O Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Estonian Approach to Food

I read this interest blog called itching for Eestimaa.  My interest in Estonia comes about because my family were Baltic Germans living in Estonia for 700 years until we were ethnically cleasned in 1939 as part Soviet occupation of Estonia.

Anyway, Justin dealt with a concept in food today, Estonians view food in two ways:
magustoit ("sweet food") and midagi soolast ("something salty")
I wish my parents were still around so that I could ask them about this and see if it spilled over into Baltic German cuisine.   On the surface the Baltic German food is a cross between Swedish and Russian food, but the ingredients we use are the same ones that the Estonians use, so the food must have similarities.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

New Mexican Joint in town

Here are some pictures of the Mexican food we have eaten this weekend. On the right we have a spread of pork rib tacos with hand pressed tortillas; hand cut salsa and guacamoles; and local arugula. On the left we have the seafood taco spread featuring: breaded cod and shrimp; hand cut mango salsa; more of the hand pressed corn tortillas; and arugula. Looks pretty good, huh? So where is this new place?

Chez Schulmann of course!

Okay, I am extremely, perhaps even excessively proud of myself, Bernard too - he was the man on proteins. The build up to the mexican fiesta began a couple of weeks ago when Bernard went into the Fairway Market in Sidney while I was getting my hair cut. He spotted a tortilla press and some dry masa mix and decided we needed to expand our culinary horizons to south of the border.

Bernard slapped some spice rub on pork ribs and put them on low, offset heat on the BBQ and mixed up some masa. When the ribs were partly cooked and the masa had sat for a bit I stepped into the tortilla ring. We had to do some experimenting and a bit of research but with a slightly wetter masa mix and some plastic wrap lining the tortilla press, we made some pretty good corn tortillas. The ribs could have cooked a wee bit longer but had great flavour. The salsa and the guacamole both turned out really well. I am not a fan of cilantro, and we didn't have any anyway, so I substituted arugula. I found it added that green-ness that cilantro imparts and a bit of spice, which made up for our lack of chilis.

On Sunday, after a long, tough afternoon at Food Fest 2011 at Fort Rodd Hill (Okay, nothing tough at ALL about that!) we decided we would do the whole tortilla thing again with fish this time.

I made a mango salsa that was pretty good - mango, garlic, arugula (see reason above) and lime zest and juice. The mangoes could have been riper, I could have had another lime, but over all I was happy. I took on the masa making this time and erred to the wet just a bit. The wetter masa meant we ended up with more, thinner tortillas, but getting the tortillas off the plastic and into the pan was trickier. Overall a better product, but not quite perfect. More tinkering will be needed. Bernard breaded the fish in panko and shallow fried it which turned out great. The fish was perfectly cooked and the crunch of the breading was very nice texturely.

As a side note the arugula and green onion used came from a local stand on Donald Street (Tuesday nights and Saturdays) that is run by a woman who uses her own, and several neighbours', yards to grow produce. We would probably qualify for half mile diet status on those! The tomatoes for the salsa came from our favorite seasonal greenhouse, Glanford Greenhouse, located on Glandford and McKenzie.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The minefield of 'ethical' food decisions

We have many choices we can make when it comes to buying our food

and there are more.

All of them represent choices, but they also represent marketing.   None of these labels would be needed if there was no premium in the market for it.

Some of the labels are actual certifications.   The process of certification does not make the food any better, it simple is a short hand way for the public to have faith in what they are buying.   The process to become certified organic means you have to keep a set of records of what you have done to the crops and the land.   It also means an inspection by the certification agency and fee that has to be paid to them.

The need for certification comes about because we are disconnected from where our food comes from.   If buy from people I know, such as my beans from Bob and beef from Phil, there is no need for the certification needed because I know who they are and how they grow their crops.   Having lived in a small rural town, I can tell you that you learn with more detail than you want to know what people are doing to grow their crops.

For certification to work, we have to trust the certification process.   Here is where I run into a problem, I have a reasonably good idea about differing organic certifications and how low most of them are globally and how very lax the inspection standards are for most certifying bodies.   Other then unprocessed organic produce certified in BC, I take all the others with a grain of salt.   I will not pay a premium for the others.

The vary names and labels have become ways for people to not have to worry about the ethics of their decision making when buying food.   People feel good by certified organic processed food.   At the end of the day, a potato chip is not a healthy food choice whether it is organic or not.   I know that my enjoyment of chips has caused my weight gain, if they were organic it would not have made me any lighter.

I do buy local when there is good local produce available for a reasonable price.   I am not paying $3 a pound for wilted local carrots.   Is it crucial to my decision making no?   Will I go out of my way to buy it?  To some extent.   I will go to Glanford Greenhouses or by Vantrieght produce at Root Cellar, but I tend not to go to the local farmer's markets.  The quality and price of the produce at the farmer's markets in the CRD tends to not meet my criteria.

The best I can do is to have an idea where my food comes from and do my best to avoid buying processed foods.   I also attempt to process foods myself.  I do this in part to understand what goes into making peanut butter or ground beef.   I also do it so that I control what is going into it.   I also do it so that the boys understand what it takes to put a meal on the table.

There are many people that buy various upscale 'ethical' brands and feel good about it, but in my mind it is an abdication of being aware of your food and a way to feel superior to others out there.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Island Chefs' Food Festival @ Fort Rodd Hill

I entered a raffle on the Ocean and won two tickets to the Island Chefs' Food Festival this coming Sunday at Fort Rodd Hill.  A pretty decent prize for the raffle, the face value of the tickets are $100

We went last year though got there late and were restricted on how long we could be there based on Max.   This year I want to go without Max and be able to spend the day there.

I will post pics and comments on Sunday or Monday.   Odds are I will be tweeting about it while it is going on.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Homemade Peanut Butter

OK, this time with the pictures.    I dealt with the saltiness of the stuff I made yesterday by making a lot more today.   I am roasted the peanuts for a shorter period this time, it tastes like store bought natural peanut butter, but I think it would be better roasted for a longer time.
The peanut butter just after it changed from
crumbs to a dough like consistency

Total cost for 1kg of peanut butter - $4.40

The texture of the peanut butter, it is crunchy
I am not sure I can make it smooth
Peanut butter when I finished processing it

A 500ml jar of homemade peanut butter
created in less than 10 minutes of active work

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Original Joe's - surprisingly good

We were out on the Westshore and needed to eat some dinner with all the boys in tow. Boston Pizza was not an option, May Gold was not something Sheila wanted, we have been underwhelmed by Smoken Bones.   We thought, against our gut reaction, to try Orginal Joe's.

We got there just before six and were told there was a 20 minute wait to get in.   Not great when you have kids, but also a sign the place may be better than we expected.   The actually got us in faster  than the time they quoted.

The waitress was excellent and the ambiance inside was decent.

We started with the Red Tractor Nachos - no idea why the name.    I was impressed, they were the best nachos I have had in many years.   The chips were fresh and crisp, it was not smothered in so much cheese that grease was pooling on the food.   The salsa that came with it was also good, possibly even made in house.

Sheila had the Thai Chicken salad.   It was well done for what it was, but it was not really what she wanted

I had The Sicilian Burger.   In part it was good, but the added Italian sausage did not work.  I had thought I would get disks of the sausage on top of the burger, instead I got a whole sausage cut in half lengthwise and put on top of the burger.   It made it very awkward to eat.   The sausage was also dry.

They did have good beer on tap.

The boys had a couple of the pizzas and they were better than what I had recently at Boston Pizza, but they were not thrilling pizzas.   I think I am spoiled because of the quality that comes from Prima Strada.

Would I go back?   Probably as we have been striking out everywhere else on the westshore.   Could I do better at home?   Certainly.

Original Joe's (Langford) on Urbanspoon

Making Peanut Butter

Stephen ran out of peanut butter for his daily lunchtime peanut butter and jam wrap.   I told him we had raw peanuts and we could make more peanut butter.

I have made peanut butter once before, or I should say I was part of the process in making it, sort of it.   It was in preschool. I went to a small pre-school/kindergarten about two blocks from my home in Tsawwassen.   This was in 1969/70 when I was four - I assume that with the impending birth of my brother Nik that my mother needed me out of the house for a couple hours of the day.    

I remember various events from the pre-school as if it just happened last week, I have a freakishly good memory that goes back to age 2.   One time at pre-school we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from scratch, and I really mean from scratch.

Thinking back now, I am wondering how order was kept when there was a room of 20 or so kids from age 4 to 5.   The task was a big one as we made the bread, we made the jelly and we made the peanut butter.

I can remember to this day what it looked like while the peanut butter was being made, how it first became crumbs and suddenly balled up into peanut butter in the blender.

I have meant to try and make peanut butter for AGES since then and the mood suddenly hit me today.

The process is a simple one.   I roasted some peanuts in the toaster oven.   I dumped them all into the food processor with a bit salt (actually too much salt, I was not paying attention and Stephen put in a tablespoon, not the teaspoon I asked for) and ran it until it became small crumbs and then all of a sudden it became a ball of peanut butter.

It is so easy, I should have done this ages ago.   I need to make some more without salt to add to this batch to balance the saltiness.

Stephen's comment on the peanut butter was that it was too peanuty - I think because it was warm and too salty that it was overwhelming.

Some pictures will come from the next batch.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Boston Pizza at Hillside and Blanshard

I missed lunch yesterday and was insanely hungry.  We were on our way to an exhibition of kids art at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and needed to eat somewhere on the way.   I was cranky enough I had no interest in any complications and decided the easiest choice would the Boston Vancouver Pizza at Hillside and Blanshard.  They have temporarily renamed themselves during the finals.  

I like the comfortable look and feel of the restaurant but keep forgetting that the food is borderline and the Hillside location is lower than borderline.

I was very hungry and ordered the cracked pepper dry ribs.   They were ok, and really that is all they were.  At $9.50 they were over priced.   As my son Stephen often likes to say "Hunger makes the best sauce" and this is really I think the only reason I tolerated them.  Sheila tried a couple and thought they were not worth eating.

My main course was a small Tuscan pizza.   I can say the crust was good, the pizza itself was awful.   It was loaded with too much stuff and it had this odd acid flavour.  It should not have been from the pomodoro sauce.  It was unpleasant and I could not connect it to anything that was in the pizza.   If I was in a better mood and we were not headed somewhere and Max was not being wild, I would have complained and pointed out the pizza was wrong.   At $16.75, this is not a good deal at all.   We should have gone to Pizzzeria Prima Strada.

Sheila had the beef dip, she said it was forgettable.  Not worth the $10.95.

So why write this review at all?  Mainly to make me remember that this location of Boston Pizza is expensive and had bad food.

M y experience at the Saanich Centre Boston Pizza, or the Langford location, have not been as bad, but according to Urbanspoon ratings, they are all really bad.

Boston Pizza on Urbanspoon

Meeting of the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers Tuesday June 7th

This is a group that has an interest in growing significant amounts of food in backyards.   I have been meeting to get to a meeting for sometime, but my life is constantly busy and I can not really add another commitment.

Here are the details I received in an email

Date: Wed, Jun 1, 2011 at 4:29 PM
Subject: [GTUF] Next GTUF Meeting 7th June 7-9 PM
To: Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers

You’re invited to the next GTUF monthly “Growing Food” meeting

Time: 7:00 to 9:00 pm on Tuesday, 7th June, 2011

Location: Saanich Neighbourhood Place (SNP) in Pearkes Recreation Centre.

Turn left upon entering Pearkes and walk to the end of the hall; SNP is on the right.

Facilitators: Gord Hutchings & Laurie Jones


  1. (Re)introduce ourselves to each other (a quick go round the circle).
  2. Focus: “Growing Mushrooms” with Gary Hegel. Gary has picked edible and medicinal mushrooms, as well as been growing mushrooms for about three years. His demonstration will show how we too can grow mushrooms in our own backyards and will include mushroom kits, logs, and pins to sell.
  3. Break (at about 8:00 pm) – eat; borrow a library book; buy a sign; chat. This is also a perfect time to talk to Tom about opening your garden for a tour over the summer months!
  4. Open discussions about: (a) winter garden planning; and (b) what's happening and what to do in the garden at this time of year, about any seeds being saved at this time, about insects or any other organisms plaguing crops, etc.
  • Feel free to bring seeds, seedlings or plants that you'd like to give away (and, if appropriate, little bags of some kind for recipients to use for seeds). Please remember to take home with you any items others don't want.
  • If you're willing to do so, please come a few minutes earlier to help us set up the space and stay a few minutes after to return the room to its original state and to clean up.
  • We invite anyone to contribute a snack item for us to eat during our break -- preferably a “finger food”. If your item requires it, please also bring napkins or cups. As per SNP policy, food and drink is to be consumed only at the tables.
  • We'll also ask for a donation to SNP to cover our use of SNP space.
  • Notes will be taken during the meeting by Brenda (or, if necessary, by someone who has agreed to take notes in her place).
  • If you’re think you might buy one of the new GTUF signs for display in your garden / on your home, please bring a few dollars with you – either this time or another time.
  • Feel free to borrow a book and/or to donate or lend a book to the GTUF library.
Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sidney Fairway and international foods

Sheila had an appointment at Salon J in Sidney for a haircut.   While she was in with Jamie, Max and I went into the Sidney Fairway.   I was surprised at the extensive and interesting international food section they have.  Many Fairways have a good Asian food selection and ours at Gorge and Tillicum has a British food section.   What they have in Sidney beyond those is Mexican, Jamaican and Dutch foods.
From Jamaica - Adobo seasonings and guava paste

Chocolate sprinkles for your bread - a Dutch treat

Can these tortillas really be better than the ones I buy?

The containers are glasses, I should have bought
both of them to try them, I have never tried a
real chocolate mole

 I am was impressed to see instant masa available and tortilla presses.  I bought one of the presses and played with it a bit today.  The corn tortillas did not turn out, but I have an idea of what I was doing wrong.  Initially the dough was too dry - the consistency of play dough seems to be where it should be.  I also should have used the cast iron fry pan instead of the non stick pan.
I loved Nutella as kid, this is Dutch version that
is hazelnut and vanilla

From Jamaica, mackerel in tomato sauce

A Dutch version of Nutella