Category Archives: food

Like Wine for Trees

Next time someone asks if you prefer red or white, say, “How about green?” If you had to choose between wine and the environment… But what if you didn’t? Oenophiles and tree huggers, unite and raise a glass to sustainability! A carbon neutral wine is now available in Ontario and British Columbia. Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio is not only Carbonzero Certified, but also for every 750ml bottle sold from April 1st to 26th, 50 cents will be donated to Tree Canada in support of creating sustainable forests across Canada.

sustainable wine, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio

The sustainable taste of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, carbon neutral and top seller

Ideally, environmentally and ethically, everything we buy would be sustainably produced down the road at eco-friendly outfits by well-paid workers who loved their jobs. But most things we buy come with an ecological cost. I happen to like Italian wines (and Spanish, French, Chilean, Argentine…), so while I enjoy a number of wines produced in nearby Niagara and though I am conscious of the environmental expense of transporting wine and other products across the ocean and the continent, I sometimes want—okay, often want a wine from some excellent but distant wine producer.

In the past, I’ve had wines marketed as eco-friendly, with names like “Happy Frog” or whatever, some of which taste like what their names imply. But Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio (apparently the top selling Italian wine in Canada) I will drink again.

Okay, so I like the wine, but what is its environmental status? At Canada Blooms (on at the Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place, until March 23rd), I spoke with the instigators of this initiative. Federico Trost, Santa Margherita’s sommelier and export manager, spoke of his company’s sustainable production practices “from grape to shelf.” They not only control the growth of the grapes, they even make their own bottles.  When I asked Carbonzero CEO Dan Fraleigh how Santa Margherita earned carbon neutral status for their Pinot, he praised Santa Margherita’s ongoing initiatives, which include emissions reductions and renewable energy production (for details, see http://www.carbonzero.ca/news) and then described three of the projects undertaken with the carbon offsets the winery purchased to make a difference beyond their own efforts and be certified carbon neutral: projects with Bison Transport in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, turning landfill emissions into fuel in Niagara, and repurposing methane emissions in Quebec. He said these aren’t the “excuse to pollute” variety of carbon offsets; they are “buying offsets that wouldn’t otherwise have existed.”

Michael Rosen, president of Tree Canada, which plants 600,000 trees a year, told me the cost, from germination to planting, is $4 per tree. Less than the cost of a glass of house wine, but still an expense. Fortunately, on top of the 50 cents for each bottle sold, Santa Margherita will donate another 50 cents every time you use the hashtag #sm_pinotgrigio. So, give a tweet, and if you want to enjoy a wine with no fossil fuel aftertaste, go to an LCBO or BC Liquor store (by foot, bicycle, public transit, or carpool) and stock up for Earth Day with Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, the one with the plantable basil-seed tag around the neck (750ml LCBO $17.95; BC Liquor $19.99 ). Sustainable wine? I’ll drink to that!

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Where Your Purchases and Information Come From

“This Headline Is Irrelevant” will never make the front page. The evening news will not say, “Tonight’s top story, Nothing to Report.” You’ll get a lot of “news” about sports, and “Muslim Rage”, but never, “Government Forsakes Tax Payer Interests to Bail Out Acme Corporation” or “Tonight’s top story, our senior business correspondent, fired for investigating our major sponsor”. Likewise, products that admit “may contain nuts” will never admit “may contain cocoa harvested by captive runaway children”.

Spring Meadows Farm

Spring Meadows Farm

If you want legitimate information, you have to get it from the horse’s mouth. So I visited some animals and their farmers two weeks ago on Open Farm Day in New Brunswick. On two farms, I saw turkeys and chickens move about freely in open pens that were not spacious but not overcrowded. I saw pigs that were happy as pigs in…sod (that’s what they’re happy to be in). They ran to me like any family dog would, then scurried off and played. A week later, returning from the farmers market, I ate bacon that came from one of their cousins, smoked by the articulate, charismatic, happy-but-overworked (his words) young farmer with whom I spoke both on the farm and at the market.

Kingston Farmers Market

Kingston Farmers Market, New Brunswick

Another thing I saw on Open Farm Day was grass fed cattle. (Contrary to a popular myth, Canadian cattle can be raised exclusively on their natural diet of grass and hay year round; they just can’t graze in the pasture all year. The alleged “need” to feed beef cattle with corn—which they cannot easily digest, like making a lactose-intolerant person live on milk—is just a way to fatten them up in two years instead of three.) The four dozen cattle grazing in the field were as happy as cattle grazing in a field. The young ones, about 15 of them, were in a barn lined up almost shoulder to shoulder. The barn was clean and quiet, the air was fresh, the young cattle had fresh water and hay. What was distressing was that they were on very short tethers. For their first season, they can do nothing but stand up and lie down. The intelligent and personable farmer explained in plain and unapologetic terms that they are being shielded from pests (horseflies) and predators (coyotes) until they are grown. “We’d take them out for a walk every day if we could, but there are only two of us,” she said. “In the spring, they’ll be out in the pasture with the rest of them.” For a dog or a cat to be chained up like that for a year would be torture. But these are not pets. Compared to conditions for industrial cattle, such treatment is luxury. My first thought was, It’s so unfair. But I looked the cows and the farmers in the eye and, despite my sentimental misgivings, I felt that these were not conditions of cruelty and I did not feel the urge to return to vegetarianism.

If only we could all have such immediate access to the origins of all products we consume. To be able to drive an hour from home and see the very starting point of any item you pick up off the store shelf downtown, and form your own conclusions about how well the system is working. But for most people and most products, going to the source is not so easy. Where, then, do you get your information?

Around 1994, attending a presentation at UNBSJ discussing the emerging World Wide Web, I asked if it could be a reliable source of useful information. The presenter told me it would take time, but he believed it would gradually become a powerful resource.

My immediate reaction upon first reading about Twitter (back when I used to discover things on my own rather than through Facebook, to which I remember having a similar initial reaction) was, “What the hell is the point of that?” But as Oscar Wilde said, “The value of the telephone is the value of what two people have to say.” Although it is damningly faint praise, I can now say that a few minutes on Twitter supplies me with wide ranging information of significantly greater importance and interest than does “the news”.

People who have something valuable to say are finding each other. And, having been away from my own blog for some time, (the rewriting of my novel is going well, thank you), I was pleased to once again find something on my own—an increasingly rare occurrence—while looking for something to read in French.

http://alternatives.blog.lemonde.fr/2012/09/29/sourcemap-le-wiki-qui-simplifie-la-conception-des-produits/

This blog post introduced me to Sourcemap, “the crowdsourced directory of supply chains”. A project of MIT’s Tangible Media Group, Sourcemap “is a social network built around supply chains, enabling collective engagement with where things come from and what they are made of.” Something starts out as some project which then begins to attract a handful of geeks and enthusiasts, and then one day is suddenly indispensable, a tool which becomes to shopping (and selling) as a seat belt is to driving. People are becoming increasingly conscious of the harms their spending can be connected to.

A rant about fair-trade bananas or chocolate gets a pretty small audience. But responsible consumerism may become something in which everyone partakes as a matter of course once it becomes possible to confirm, as easily as checking the weather forecast, whether the thing you are planning to buy is produced under inhumane conditions, grown in night soil, derived from unsustainable sources, or shipped from thousands of kilometres away when a local, ethical, sustainable option might be available.

sourcemap showing sources of laptop

A Sourcemap showing sources of laptop components

With the “era of traceability” now upon us, participating in unsustainable and unethical consumerism is becoming increasingly inexcusable. Even here in backwards old New Brunswick, I am finding with no effort such things as fair-trade chocolate chips and local, grass-fed beef, at multiple locations and reasonable prices (no more expensive than the same products in fancy-ass Toronto where everything other than rent is generally cheaper than on the east coast).

sourcemap reveals shared problem of bottle shipping

Sourcemap shows shared shortcoming of shipping

Take a look, get involved. We can bring meaning to the phrase “guilt-free shopping”. Where did the parts of this computer come from? Where will they go when it is recycled? Who made your T-shirt and where was the cotton grown? Sourcemap is still a work in progress, and it may not dazzle you yet, but watch out. You may soon forget what life was like without it.

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Find Wine That’s Fine, Choose Cheese with Ease

Ignorance is not always bliss. Sometimes bliss comes from learning. I remember wondering, in my youth, what the appeal of wine was. I remember believing that cheese was the powder that came in the box of macaroni. Now I’m older and wiser, and fatter and drunker.

Learning about wine and cheese, like learning about jazz, is easy and deeply rewarding. It just takes a lot of exposure. A quick way to get a lot of exposure is to attend something like the Wine and Cheese Show in Toronto this weekend.

There are countless paths into the twin gardens of wine and cheese. Options are almost endless. When John Cleese finds his first three requests unavailable at the cheese shop, he asks for 40 other kinds, and that’s just the tip of the Jarlsberg. I think it is very likely that Monty Python‘s “Cheese Shop” sketch was what prompted me to begin exploring cheese.

Here are some cheesy words you may not need…

  • Umami: The fifth taste. The word is Japanese, but what it describes is universal, that distinctive flavour that isn’t sweet, salty, sour or bitter. It’s that savoury taste of, amongst other things, cheese.
  • Sommelier: wine expert
  • Oenophile: wine lover
  • Cheesemonger: sells cheese
  • Affineur: maintains, ripens and ages cheese
  • Fromager: cheese expert
  • Caseophile or turophile: cheese lover

To read some other tips I’ve picked up over the past quarter century of self-indulgence, please read this short piece I wrote for Post City. http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Eat/March-2012/The-Wine-and-Cheese-Show-is-in-town-Herewith-a-crash-course-in-becoming-a-connoisseur/

And here’s one I wrote after sobering up from a wine tasting last year. And then there’s sake.

 

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You Are Here: Gangneung, Korea

I asked my old friend Marcus Peddle to write about his city, Gangneung, on the north east coast of South Korea where he and his wife Kyeong-hwa graciously had me for a visit a few years ago. Marcus is a professor of English, a photographer, an erstwhile poet and musician, and a native of Newfoundland who has lived and taught in Korean for 17 years where he is now a citizen.                                           (To pronounce “Gangneung” [강릉 if that helps], say “gang” and then make a sound like there’s a bell trapped in your throat: “nung”, no more like “reung”… No, I still can’t say it right either.)

Gangneung, South Korea: It’s a nice place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit. By guest blogger Marcus Peddle

Woman on Snowy Beach, Gangneung, South Korea, by Marcus Peddle

Woman on Snowy Beach, Gangneung, South Korea, by Marcus Peddle

Thousands upon thousands of people visit the South Korean city of Gangneung in the summer and on New Year’s Day. In the summer they leave the hot, overcrowded city of Seoul and come for the beaches and the raw fish restaurants. On New Year’s Eve the cars are backed up to the capital on the ‘express’ ways so people can watch the sun rise out of the sea on New Year’s Day along with ten thousand other people. Well, they can have it. I wouldn’t want to visit Gangneung.

But I do like living here.

I am not a beach person. I don’t eat seafood, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a sunrise or even wanted to. So Gangneung’s tourist attractions are lost on me. And, I think, probably not of much interest to a visitor from another country. If you want to experience traditional Korean culture then Andong or Gyeongju would be better. If you are interested in Korean art and events then Seoul is the place to be. But if you are coming to Korea to live then Gangneung is a decent place to be.

First, the natural scenery here is great. The word ‘Gangneung’ is made of two Chinese characters 江陵 which mean ‘river’ and ‘hill’. A small river runs through the centre of the city and has walking and bicycle paths. For a person in shape, getting from one end of the city to the other only takes about half an hour. The river comes from the mountains which separate Gangneung from the rest of the country. These are about 800 metres high and offer a beautiful view of the east coast. In addition to a river and mountains, Gangneung also has a lake that is separated from the sea by just a hundred metres or so. Next to this lake is Gyeongpo Pavilion, from which it is said you can see the moon five times. Once in the sky, once in the sea, once in the lake, once in your drinking cup, and once in the eye of your lover. I’ll take that over a sunrise any day.

Culinary Delights, Gangneung, South Korea, by Marcus Peddle

Culinary Delights, Gangneung, South Korea, by Marcus Peddle

Gangneung also has culinary delights. To the north of the city is a whole village dedicated to the making of traditional cookies called hangwa. Most of them are made with rice flour and lots of them have honey. Highly recommended. There is another village in Gangneung called Chodang that has almost nothing but tofu restaurants. Tofu might not sound very exciting to those of you whose experience of tofu is limited to the rubbery blocks found in many Canadian supermarkets but the tofu in this village (and Korea in general) is different. The tofu is made in the restaurants every day and comes in blocks boiled or fried, in soups and stews, or in a soft form eaten in broth. The tofu in Gangneung is different than the tofu in the rest of the country because it is made with seawater instead of fresh water with added salt. I take back what I said. Visiting Gangneung just for the tofu would be worth it.

So, except for the tofu, I probably would not go out of my way to visit Gangneung if I was a tourist. But it’s a wonderful place to work and live.

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Robbie Burns Haggis

Happy Burns Day to you!

Och, you look famished — hungry enough to eat a horse, or sheep entrails. Come, pull up a chair and have a wee nibble o’ haggis!

Fresh butcher-made haggis hot out of the oven

Haggis out of Focus (might've been the whisky), prepared by ethical butcher, cooked at home

Listen: (My Luve is Like a) Red Red Rose

Read: Got haggis? You should — it’s Robbie Burns Day (below)

Robert Burns was born Jan. 25, 1759. His birthday is celebrated all over the world. Best known for having written “To a Mouse” and “Auld Lang Syne,” he also wrote “Address to a Haggis,” an ode to Scotland’s notorious national dish. Burns called it the “great chieftain o’ the pudding race,” but if you find it hard to think of haggis as a delicacy, think of it as sheep recycling. In honour of Burns, let’s consider the haggis, which he immortalized with a “grace as lang’s my arm.”

They say those who love sausages wouldn’t want to know what goes into making them. That goes double for Scotland’s chieftain of sausages. How haggis is made is a simple question to answer: take a sheep’s heart, liver, lungs and anything tasty that might be stuck to them, mince them up with onions, oats and suet (or maybe sweat), fry it all up and sew it into the sheep’s stomach or intestine (whichever you find more appetizing). The next question is “why?” It is a way to enjoy and preserve those precious, tasty bits that might get you through a few cauld winter nichts.

Haggis, which basically means “hash” (or hacked up bits that no one would eat if they were identifiable), is not nearly as horrible as you might reasonably imagine it to be. Granted, before it’s cooked it starts off looking like road kill, but once it’s been hacked, minced, fried, stuffed, stitched, boiled and roasted, it comes out looking like, well, cooked road kill.

By the time it gets to your plate, haggis no longer looks like, um, anything in particular. In taste and texture it’s kind of like a spicy shepherd’s pie. As if that weren’t fancy enough, haggis is generally served with a side of tatties ’n’ neeps (a lovely pair, especially when they’re mashed together). That may sound a bit risqué, but it’s actually just vegetables: potatoes and turnips.

Once you’ve gone through all this trouble, don’t just sit in front of the telly and chow down. You have to dress up in your kilt, parade the haggis to the table marching in step with your household bagpiper and then recite the “Address to a Haggis” in your most obnoxious faux-Scottish accent and pretend you know what it means.

Then you pour a wee nip of whisky from the teapot and toast Burns, then toast the lassies. Repeat until the teapot runs dry.

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Conscious Food Festival, Thought for Food

Toronto’s second annual Conscious Food Festival at Fort York National Historic Site, today and tomorrow, is an opportunity to meet local people who bring you good things to eat. Unlike old familiar festivals around town, this festival is new enough that there is no waiting in line, no crushing multitude. Good food, good weather, good space, good music, good karma, good moods, good times all around!

Conscious Food Festival 2011 map of venue

Conscious Food Festival 2011

While other nations starve, most of us in Canada are able to eat anything from anywhere at any time. But think before you consume. Watching what you eat is about more than just your personal well-being. There are other people, other species, and a whole planet to consider.

It’s not as simple as following some no-buy list, or swallowing every “organic” label hook-line-and-sinker. As Dan Donovan told me when his Hooked fish market opened this spring, sustainability is not about which species you buy, it’s about how that fish gets caught. And the same goes for any other food item. It’s important to know where and how that food was grown, and how was it harvested and brought to where you are.

With Chef Martin Kouprie and members of the Pangaea team

With Chef Martin Kouprie and members of the Pangaea team (and a bag of cookies from ChocoSol!)

At the Conscious Food Festival today, I was fortunate enough to have a good long chat with affable, Fredericton-born Chef Martin Kouprie of Pangaea Restaurant. His new book Pangaea: Why It Tastes So Good is available at the festival at a discount. (And the halibut and ratatouille today did indeed taste so good!)

Other books that will give you thought for food are Locavore by Sarah Elton, Edible City co-edited by Christina Palassio, and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.

And if this kind of thing is your cup of tea, keep your eye out for the next Brewer’s Plate fundraiser.

Bon appétit!

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More to Indian Food: Vij’s

Here’s a taste of my interview with Chef Vikram Vij, who was on hand yesterday at Toronto’s All the Best Find Foods in its tasty new space at 1101 Yonge Street:


There is no vindaloo in your first book Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine. Did you just run out of room?

[Laughs] You’ll never find that. You’ll never find butter chicken either…Why would I do vindaloo or chicken tikka masala or chicken korma? That’s like if someone opens a North American restaurant in India, a pancake restaurant, and then everyone thinks all that North Americans eat is pancakes. Unfortunately, many Indian restaurants have almost the same menu. But if you go into Indian homes, people always use different flavours and make different dishes. And that’s the beautiful thing about our cooking. We have the largest “democracy of food”; you can do whatever the hell you want and get away with it!

 

 

M Read the rest at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Eat/March-2011/Chef-Vij-hits-up-TO-gives-props-to-Kennedy-McEwan-and-Dooher/.

More coming at PostCity.com.

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