Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Food on the Horizon

While I have not yet figured out what to sink my teeth into to get me out of this slump, I wanted to share with you some events coming up over the next two months that are guaranteed to lift everyone's spirits. They're food events, naturally.

Only three and a half week away, the first annual Toronto Garlic Festival is expected to bring together foodies of all stripes: not just professional chefs but amateur cooks and anyone with a healthy love of garlic. Urban farmers and gardeners are invited to come and ask Ontario garlic growers how to start their own garlic patch at home, and the rest of us can stock up on our favourite varieties for winter and watch cooking demos. The festival would be incomplete without a tasting event where all are invited to enjoy garlic-inspired creations... don't forget your breath mints! The festival runs from 9 am to 4 pm on Sunday, September 25th, at the Evergreen Brick Works. Admission is $5 for adults and free for kids.

If you can spend a little more and want to get a little more, why not come to the fifth annual Picnic at the Brick Works? It's a fundraiser for Evergreen and Slow Food Toronto that features local growers, ranchers, and fishers from different regions in Southern Ontario alongside chefs and brewers who know just what to do with seasonal ingredients grown close to home. Additionally, community partners working on environmental and food issues will be on hand to share their ideas and strategies for action, because everyone who enjoys food should know about the issues! The picnic will be held on Sunday, October 2nd, from noon to 4 pm, at the Evergreen Brick Works. Tickets are $120 and well worth it.

I know it's a little scary to think about late October, but please save the date for the Toronto Food Policy Council's 20th Anniversary Celebration on Thursday, October 20th! Come for the conference, the dinner, or both, and commemorate two decades of innovative food policy and action in Toronto. At the conference, ("Together at the Table: The foundation and future of food in Toronto"), food advocates, community groups, City staff, City Councillors, concerned Torontonians, and food systems experts will reflect on the past and imagine the next 20 years of food in our city-region. The conference runs from 8:30 am to 5 pm at St. Lawrence Hall, with the dinner to follow from 6 to 9 pm in the William Doo Auditorium at the University of Toronto. A suggested donation to cover the cost of the food ($10-40) will be collected on the day of the event. Please RSVP with Leslie Troy at ltroy (at) or 416-338-7934.

What kinds of food-themed events are you planning on attending in your neck of the woods in September and October?

Photo of garlic used under Creative Commons from David Goehring (CarbonNYC/flickr).
Photo of picnic basket used under Creative Commons from Steven Depolo (stevendepolo/flickr).
Photo of birthday cake used under Creative Commons from Will Clayton (flickr).

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Despair: 1. Optimism: 0.

Sigh. This has not been a good week for me. Jack Layton passed away on Monday, and you'd think I was grieving the death of a close family member. Me and so many other Canadians, it seems. It wasn't until I watched his state funeral yesterday that I realized where part of my sadness was coming from: I feel burdened by the weight of having to pick up where Jack left off.

Put plainly, it would take a hundred people like me to bring about as much change as he did. Not only because I'm not a City Councillor or Member of Parliament, but mostly because I don't have Jack's energy, drive, and can-do attitude. Right now, and often, I lack the hope and optimism which, as he wrote in his open letter to Canadians, he wants us to embrace in order to change the world.

It didn't matter that I was moved to see how many people lined the streets along the route his procession took from City Hall, where he lay in state on Saturday morning, to Roy Thomson Hall, where his funeral was held on Saturday afternoon; I felt despair. It didn't matter how many of us showed up in the square beside the hall to watch his funeral on big outdoor screens; I felt despair. It didn't matter how many standing ovations were given by the guests when various eulogists conveyed Jack's message of hope; I felt despair. There are too few of us. And there is - was - only one of him. Jack, I'm really sorry, but today I don't see a bright future ahead of us.

But tomorrow is Monday, and it's the start of a new week. I can't give in to this feeling, which may be fleeting. What I need right now is to do something that will inspire, motivate, and ground me again. Move me past my grief and back into action. I just don't know what that is right now.

Photo of Sisyphus used under Creative Commons from AJ Cann (AJC1/flickr).
Photos of chalk tributes at City Hall used under Creative Commons from Jackman Chiu (close-up and wide/flickr).

Friday, August 26, 2011

Breaking the Rules and Getting Away With It

Yesterday I spent the late morning and early afternoon in High Park, Toronto's largest public park in the west end of the city. I was hiking the network of trails in the park to learn about trees - which species grow there, what state they're in, and what the City has (and hasn't) planned in terms of maintenance and stewardship. This tour was led by my new boss, the Director of GreenHere, a community greening and reforestation non-profit working in the Davenport neighbourhood of Toronto.

After exploring the black oak savannah and identifying many cherry, maple, pine, and willow trees, we followed Wendigo Creek to Grenadier Pond and hiked all the way around the southern end of the park before taking a break to indulge in ice cream at the cafe. I should point out: this post isn't actually about the ecology of High Park but rather the psychology of human behaviour! So please excuse me for skipping over the ecosystem details this time around.

At the cafe, our little group sat outside on the patio to enjoy the weather before it turned rainy. Many other park users were having lunch, and at the table next to us sat two women chatting over coffee. One of them was eating a rather large muffin; its size is relevant because after a while, she abandoned it, leaving lots of crumbs on her plate. While wasting food is lamentable to me, the bigger issue is what came next: one after another, little sparrows came to investigate. Noticing this, the woman pushed her plate farther away from her. The birds reacted by coming closer. Eventually the woman picked up her plate and actually placed it at the far end of the table, closest to the birds! I'm sure she was thinking, "I might as well let them have it since I'm done with it", which is sadly a very ignorant attitude.

There are signs all over the park near the ponds and wetlands asking the public not to feed the waterbirds - ducks, geese, and swans, mostly. To give the woman the benefit of the doubt, it's entirely possible that she knows better than to toss food at the ducks, but she just wasn't putting two and two together and realizing that none of the wildlife should be fed, period. I don't know because I didn't ask. In fact, I didn't say a word to her; I didn't even give her a nasty look! I could easily come up with many reasons to oppose her actions: feeding birds encourages them to depend on food from humans, rather than to fend for themselves as they are designed to do; it helps to increase their population size to artificial proportions, disturbing the natural balance of the ecosystem, and in the case of waterbirds, causing human/wildlife conflicts which in turn promote harmful practices to reduce their numbers; and most critical in this case, it creates health problems within the birds because human foods like muffins contain artificial and processed ingredients that wild animals just can't properly digest - it's not like we do well with refined sugar and preservatives, either.

How is it that I can support environmental education on the one hand, and on the other hand fail to engage a total stranger in the very moment they betray their ignorance on such matters? Why does my fear of creating a scene trump my desire to right a wrong? In the moment, I justified my inaction with silly excuses: I was beginning to develop a headache as the stormy weather moved in, I didn't want to make a bad impression in front of my new colleagues, and there are much larger issues to deal with than a few dozen sick sparrows living near the cafe in High Park. But one day later, I feel like a cheat.

Photo of black oak savannah used under Creative Commons from jon hayes (jon.hayes/flickr).
Photo of sparrows used under Creative Commons from BabyDinosaur (flickr).
Photo of sprinkles used under Creative Commons from S. Diddy (flickr).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An Open Letter from Jack Layton to Canadians

This week I am mourning the passing of NDP leader Jack Layton. For those of you outside of Canada, here are a few things you should know about this great man: like me, he grew up in a suburb outside of Montreal and came to call Toronto home; it was here that he sat on City Council and first let his left-wing voice be heard. Almost ten years ago he made the move to federal politics, quadrupling the number of votes for the NDP in that short time. I believe he presented the New Democrats as a real alternative to the Liberals and PCs in part because he was the kind of person that the average Canadian could relate to. He cared about families, fighting for important issues like job creation, affordable housing, education, public transit, health care wait times, and action on climate change. In other words, he fought to make Canada a better place to live for all of us. It comes as no surprise, then, that tributes to Layton have been popping up everywhere, notably at Toronto City Hall with chalk messages all over the outside of the building as well as flowers at his residence and office. Canadian or not, I urge you to read his open letter if you have not done so already. He made the effort to write to us at a time when he was probably enduring the pain and suffering associated with a failed cancer treatment; Jack Layton was, to the end, a man of the people.

August 20, 2011, Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don't be discouraged that my own journey hasn't gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we've done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let's continue to move forward. Let's demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus
: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada's Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one - a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world's environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don't let them tell you it can't be done.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world.

All my very best,
Jack Layton

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Feel Good News

It's Friday, and in my books, that means it's time to feel good. Let's set aside the doom-and-gloom stories for a moment and focus on some good news!


It's been a while since I posted a video, and this one will definitely reward your patience! Check out the incredible story of a fresh food market on wheels that brings healthy produce to a food desert (a neighbourhood with severely limited access to fresh fruits and veggies) in Chicago:

I can't get over how delighted the boy is when he bites into the apple, like he's never had one, or it's been so long he couldn't remember the taste, smell, texture, and juiciness of it. A mobile produce stand like this could combat food deserts in every city. With adequate funding and a donated bus, this model can be replicated anywhere. I even think the contents of the market could be tailored to the neighbourhood being served such that culturally appropriate produce is available to the communities that traditionally cook with ingredients not commonly found in Western supermarkets. A market on wheels targeting specific neighbourhoods could meet that need.

For more information on this incredible project, check out the Fresh Moves website and enjoy this Feel Good News Friday!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair

I'll cut right to the chase for those of you who are confused by the title of this post. I was thinking in the shower this morning that the water I use to wet and rinse my hair when washing it makes up the vast majority of the water I use when I bathe, and this made me wonder whether choosing to keep it long is an environmentally unfriendly act.

Unlike Rapunzel, my hair isn't blonde, and compared to her, I have nothing to complain about when it comes to keeping my mane tamed. There's a reason they don't show her washing and drying her hair in last year's Tangled animated movie: it would have eaten up half of the running time! Still, my hair is thick and long (down to the middle/small of my back, and not layered), at least by non-fairy tale standards, and because I've used conventional hair products so sparingly over the years and only ever dyed my hair once, it's in very good condition. Since it suits me at this length, there's simply no need to change my hair style. Until I consider the water and energy waste involved in maintaining it!

This summer I've been really good with turning off the shower while I lather shampoo into my hair, but rinsing it and the occasional conditioner out requires a lot of water, especially since my hair is so thick. My showers seem to take forever! On days when I don't need to wash my hair (thankfully, two days out of three) I can zip in and out of the shower in a minute or two. Hair washing days... I'd rather not admit how long I spend under the running water.

Then there's the drying. I'm happy to let the heat and sun of the summer take care of that, but it's just not an option in colder weather. A hair dryer is necessary so I don't freeze to death in the winter, and I don't think those gadgets come in energy efficient models. Even so, it takes 20-25 minutes to get my hair completely dry. Please don't make me calculate the kW use associated with that process two to three times a week!

The question is, should my environmental ideals trump my aesthetic ideals? Maybe my long hair isn't an aesthetic ideal as much as a vanity-driven obsession. After all, the more often I am complimented for my hair, the bigger my ego gets. In that case, taking the plunge and opting for a very short hair style for green reasons seems acceptable and potentially good for my modesty. If I'm already the type of person who doesn't wear make-up, rarely accessorizes my wardrobe with matching jewellery, and almost never applies polish to my nails, why put so much importance on my hair? On the other hand, this feels like a pretty drastic move.

I'm stumped - what should I do?

Photo of Rapunzel doll used under Creative Commons from Jenny (jollyserenity27/flickr).
Photo of long hair being cut used under Creative Commons from alachia (flickr).

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Feel Good News

It's Friday, and in my books, that means it's time to feel good. Let's set aside the doom-and-gloom stories for a moment and focus on some good news!


This week I kept putting off preparing this Friday Feel Good News post because so many happy stories came my way that it was hard to decide which to tell you about. I'm savouring this experience because it will no doubt be short-lived! So without further delay, let's learn about the sustainable vision behind Squishy Press publishing company.

As every parent knows, babies like chewing on books! Parents Allison Reeve Manley and Rob Coleman decided they wanted to do something about that - they knew they couldn't prevent their son from putting books in his mouth, but they wanted to make sure he wasn't being harmed in the process. Think about all of the products on the market for children these days that are available in safe and non-toxic varieties, from organic cotton clothing to BPA-free bottles. What's missing? Books without harsh chemicals in the binding, ink, and laminate.

It was an obvious move, then, for Manley and Coleman to use their design expertise to create safe books that contain significantly lower levels of toxins than the national requirement. The first title to be printed was Opposites, which teaches kids about antonyms such as happy vs. sad and wet vs. dry using images of children depicting those states (which is, in my humble opinion, brilliant), followed by Silly Faces, which as you can imagine is filled with photos of kids making silly faces! Manley is working on creating four more books along the same vein and expanding her company's merchandise line to include stacking blocks, puzzles, and memory games.

For those of you who care about all things green but don't have little ones in your life, how cool is it that Squishy Press produces its books at wind-powered facilities using recycled paper, with all materials manufactured in the US? There's lots to love about this publishing company that has already sold 4,000 books in one year. For more information, please visit the Squishy Press website or check out Manley's profile in the Washington University in St. Louis magazine, which is where I read about this great story after my WUSTL alumni friend sent me the link! Thanks Angini and happy Feel Good News Friday to all!

Photo of baby chewing book used under Creative Commons from Jody Morris (JodyDigger/flickr).
Photo of wind farm used under Creative Commons from Jeff Kubina (flickr).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Preserving Summer Flavours

In my neck of the woods, the summer season is a mysterious creature that provides an enormous bounty of food over a very short period of time. While I'm busy getting over the shock of the flavour explosion contained in a handful of blueberries, brightly coloured stalks of rainbow swiss chard, and heirloom varieties of tomatoes, the summer quietly slips away and suddenly I'm wearing hoodies to keep warm again. Thankfully that's still a few months away this year, but before it happens, some canning and preserving is in order.

Back in June I attended a workshop put on by Young Urban Farmers CSA and facilitated by chef, food activist, and writer Joshna Maharaj. I'd like to share the recipes we used to save summer flavours for the long winter months ahead. The benefits go beyond merely enjoying great tasting food when nothing is growing outside; by doing your own canning, you avoid purchasing products at the supermarket, which means...
  • you decide exactly what goes into the preserve, and more importantly what doesn't
  • you can use local ingredients from the farmers' market, your backyard garden, your CSA share, or another source of food grown close to home
  • you take back control of your food - let's be honest, canning is a skill everyone should know!

Let's start at the very beginning of the growing season with asparagus.

Pickled Asparagus

Makes 2 x 500ml jars


30 asparagus spears
1/3 cup coarse salt
2 quarts cold water
1 2/3 cups white vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 1/2 teaspoons dill seed
1 white onion, sliced into rings
1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
2 sprigs fresh dill


1. Trim the cut end of the asparagus spears and cut them into 3" lengths. Place them in a large bowl with 1/3 cup salt and cover with water. Let stand for 2 hours. Drain and rinse under cool water and pat dry.

2. Sterilize two pint-sized wide mouth jars in simmering water for 5 minutes. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the vinegar, sugar, 1 tsp of salt, mustard seeds, dill seeds, and onion rings. Bring to a boil, and boil for one minute.

3. Pack the asparagus spears, tips up, in the hot jars, leaving 1/2" of space below the neck. Tuck one dill sprig into each jar and sprinkle in 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes. Pour hot pickling liquid into the jars, filling to within 1/4" of the neck. Wipe rims with a clean damp cloth, and seal with lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

4. Cool to room temperature. Check seals when cool by pressing the centre of the lid. They should not move. Label and date; store in a cool dark place. If any jars have not sealed properly, refrigerate and eat within two weeks.

Moving ahead a few weeks past asparagus season, strawberries begin to emerge in the fields.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Makes 5 x 500ml jars


10 cups strawberries, hulled, washed, and chopped into quarters
2 cups granulated sugar
2 packages (45g each) freezer jam pectin


1. Sterilize 5 x 500ml preserving jars and lids and set aside. Place strawberries in a bowl and mash well, until berries are pulpy and liquidy.

2. Add sugar and pectin and stir well for 2-3 minutes to dissolve in strawberry mixture. Taste and adjust sweetness if necessary. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or so to make sure that pectin and sugar are completely dissolved and incorporated.

3. Fill bottles to just below the neck with jam, cover, and freeze for up to 8 months. Once jam has been thawed, you can store it in the fridge for up to 2 months.

Chinese napa cabbage, grown commercially on a limited scale in southern Ontario, is available continuously through the season. Why not make kimchi with it?

Classic Napa Kimchi

Makes 4 x 1-litre jars


1 cup + 1 tbsp coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2 litres of water
2 heads Napa cabbage, cut into 2” wedges
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 x 2” piece of ginger root, peeled
1/4 cup fish sauce or Korean salted shrimp
1 small daikon, peeled and grated
1 bunch of green onions, cut into 1” lengths
1/2 cup Korean chili powder
1 tsp sugar (optional)


1. Dissolve 1 cup salt in 2 litres of water. Soak cabbage in the salt water for 3 to 4 hours.

2. Combine garlic, ginger, and fish sauce or shrimp in food processor until finely minced.

3. In large bowl, combine radish, green onions, garlic mixture, chili powder, 1 tbsp salt and optional sugar. Toss gently but thoroughly. (If mixing with your hands, be sure to wear rubber gloves to avoid chili burn.)

4. Remove cabbage from water and rinse thoroughly. Drain cabbage in colander, squeezing as much water from the leaves as possible. Stuff radish mixture between cabbage leaves, working from the outside in, starting with the largest leaves to the smallest. Do not overstuff, but make sure radish mixture adequately fills leaves. When entire cabbage is stuffed, take one of the larger leaves and wrap tightly around the rest of the cabbage. Divide cabbage among 4 x 1-litre jars, pressing down firmly to remove any air bubbles.

5. Let sit for 2 to 3 weeks in a cool place before serving. Remove kimchi from jar and slice into 1" pieces. Refrigerate after opening.

Carrots and pears honour us with their presence in late summer. Bet you didn't think they went together!

Carrot Jam

Makes 4 x 250ml jars


1 1/2 cups carrots, grated using a food processor
2 cups pears, peeled and chopped finely
1 3/4 cups canned pineapple with juice
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves in a cheesecloth sack
1 package pectin
6 1/2 cups of sugar


1. Boil everything but the sugar and pectin for 20 minutes. Add pectin off heat and return to a boil.

2. Add sugar, stir, and bring to a hard boil for 60 seconds.

3. Can in 4 x 250ml jars, process for 10 minutes.

Look at what we made in less than three hours!

What's being preserved in your kitchen this year?