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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