Sunday, July 19, 2009

Link: Jacqueline Church on Sensible Sustainability

I cannot for the life of me remember from which site I was linked to this article, because it took me a day or two to get around to reading it.

Jacqueline Church presents a reasoned and, well, sensible look at the difficulty of choosing which foods are "best", and does it a million times better than I could.

One of her main points is that we should embrace incompetence. In realizing that the qualities of "good" food: local, organic, sustainable, (healthy, reasonably priced, ...) can often be in conflict with each other, and we shouldn't be looking for easy answers or a quick fix.

There's no point in me reiterating the whole article though, when you could be reading it right now. So go. Yes you. Git!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Market & Kitchen, July 18

Rainclouds are gathering here now, but at least it was sunny this morning. Going to the farmers market is much more pleasant when it's not raining. It's been cool, too: I doubt it got above 23ºC here today. But that means I can cook & bake without heating up my apartment, so I'm happy.

Groceries this week started yesterday at Strictly Bulk with some almonds ($0.99), a bag of organic kamut (64 cents! May need to make this a staple, since I cooked some and tasted it and it's great), and 2L of milk ($5.78). They only had one of the 1%, so I'll make my yogurt with 2% this week. And some chocolate chips to satisfy a serious chocolate craving I was undergoing. Really people, it was a crisis situation. And walking past 3 or 4 chocolate shops on my way home (at least 2 of which were advertising sales) did not help in the least. The chocolate chips ($0.33) hit the spot though. I didn't eat them all.

I also stopped at Valumart for olive oil (1L $5.99), orange juice concentrate ($1.29 each, a staple for me), and soft goat cheese ($2.99).

At the farmers' market I bought redskinned new potatoes, some sort of elongated beets (I hunted around for the ones with the nicest tops), green&yellow beans (very fresh and sweet, they're delicious--and I don't even really like green beans that much), a cabbage and a horrible purchase of mulberries. Bland bland bland. And $5. Shoulda gone for the blueberries, but I wanted to try something new. Ah well, live and learn. Spent $19 total.

One last stop at the fruit & veg shop for bananas, onions, garlic and mushrooms. $3.93 there, which brings me to a total of $42.23 for the week. Technically under budget, but I wanted to see if I could only spend $175 on groceries for the month, which means I have $33.09 left. Doable, considering how much I have in my pantry & freezer, but I'm nearly out of bread flour and I wanted to get a bag of red fife flour which I estimate will run me ~$8. I'm also nearly out of peanut butter and tea supply's getting low. So we'll see.

I've already done a bunch of cooking for this week: I made vegetable stock, cooked up some cannellini beans, boiled the kamut, and baked oatmeal raisin muffins. I also cooked some caramelized onions, and they went into...bread pockety things. I also did some pizza ones with sauce, mozzarella cheese, and spinach. I guess those would be closer to pizza pockets. I thought about doing some with black beans, salsa, and cheddar cheese, but I decided to keep it to 2 kinds this time.

Yogurt is fermenting as we speak. I didn't use any powdered milk this time like I did last time; I'm interested in seeing what thickness it gets to. I might also leave it to ferment for 6 hours to see what happens. A third change: I didn't sterilize the jars before I started. Decided it was too much fuss. If my yogurt turns, that will be a lesson learned I guess.

I also did a load of laundry, washed the bathroom, and pulled up my plants the succumbed to the flies. (TODO: buy new herb plants) Pretty pooped.

Oh, yeah. The menu! Shuffled things around a bit last week so I could use up my vegetables. This week I'll be making:
  • Pizza pockets, cabbage slaw.
  • Kamut, cannellini bean and mushroom salad (inspired, and very roughly based on this salad from Cooking Light) - will probably add some goat cheese...
  • Pasta with beet greens, cannellini beans, and goat cheese
  • Smoked pork chop, sauteed cabbage, steamed beets, roasted garlic mashed potatoes
  • spicy cabbage/black bean pancake with soy/ginger/lime/molasses dipping sauce
  • potato pancakes (leftover mashed potatoes, egg, bit of flour) with beet/yogurt or beet/goat cheese sauce/salad/condiment.
  • baked salmon with some sort of flavouring TBD, potatoes or rice...probably cabbage, maybe spinach from the freezer...whatever vegetables I have left.
Got yogurt and granola for breakfasts (I'll use up the mulberries here), but I might run out of granola. Might make more midweek, or just ration it out and restock on the weekend. Oatmeal when I feel like it. Fried eggs & leftover pancakes for Sunday breakfast. For lunches: leftovers and curry and soup from the freezer. Green beans, bananas, and oatmeal muffins for snacks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Food Waste Friday July 17

Woohoo! No waste this week--barely. I realized after shopping last week that I'd overbought on vegetables a bit, so I planned dishes that could expand to accommodate more veggies and froze the extra portions. I also blanched & froze a bunch of spinach that I wasn't able to otherwise use. Now I have a freezer full of black bean soup and vegetable curry with rice (my own version of microwave dinners), and a fridge that's looking preeeeeeetty empty. Good thing tomorrow is grocery day chez Kate.

And just so that I don't get too full of myself I would like to point out the sad state of my produce drawer which I am going to have to clean before I put anything else in it. But not tonight.

These fridge photos make me think I should do a full profile of my fridge/freezer/pantry. Stay tuned for that. I've also got a post about the science behind calorie counts (or more specifically: what's wrong with them) in the works. Should be up some time next week. Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This week's lunches: July 13-17 2009

Lots of repeats this week, but lots of fresh, colourful and delicious produce. Yay summer!

Monday: Lentil, broccoli and orange salad (recipe here) on romaine, blanched asparagus and broccoli, peas, oranges, cherries and a cherry filled bun (more on that later)

Tuesday: Some sort of bastard pasta primavera with garlic scapes, asparagus and peas, oranges and an oatmeal molasses muffin, peas, broccoli, and cherries, with a fancy lettuce liner for the container (which I ate)

Wednesday: Delicious, steamy, spicy, chock full of stuff vegetable black bean clean-out-the-fridge/freezer soup. Except frozen, so that it won't leak. Cornbread in the red diamond shaped silicone...thing, and the usual fruit&veg.

Thursday: More soup, more everything. A simple salad of romaine, sunflower seeds, black sesame seeds, salt, pepper and lime. I don't have a container that can reliably hold dressing without leaking, but this was delicious.

Friday: The on-the-ball reader will notice that Friday is in fact tomorrow. It's lunch from the future! I usually pack my lunch the night before, because it's one less thing to do in the morning. And if you've been in the position of standing in front of the fridge 10 minutes before you need to leave wondering what the heck you can chuck in a container to bring, you'll understand why I avoid it. The only new thing here is a vegetable curry under brown rice (so that the rice doesn't get soggy)

That's it for this week folks, stay tuned tomorrow for another exciting episode of Food Waste Friday! Woooo!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Making yogurt: in pictures

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Recipe: Lentil, Broccoli and Orange Salad

Lentil, Broccoli and Orange Salad

The oranges add a sweet note to this hearty, crunchy salad. Serve as a side dish or with crusty bread or pita as a light meal. There are lots of ways you could vary this salad: swap out the broccoli for sweet pepper or cucumber, or try a different fruit instead of the orange--strawberries or peaches would be an interesting twist. Crumbled feta would really make it sing; I'm sad I didn't have any to add this time.

Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side

1 cup lentils*
chicken or vegetable stock (optional, for cooking lentils)
1 head broccoli
1 large navel/seedless orange, or 2 smaller oranges
1/2 head (approx.) romaine or other sturdy lettuce
juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
sunflower seeds for garnish

This is a make-ahead recipe since the lentils need to be cooked ahead of time to cool down and for the flavours to mingle.

Rinse the lentils in a large bowl or pot (I use the pot I'm going to cook them in) and pick them over to check for stones. Cover with about 1" of water and stock if using. (I chuck in a few icecubes worth of frozen chicken stock. It adds more flavour to the pot.) Add a bit of salt unless your stock is salted. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. When they're cooked, drain off any excess liquid and set the pot aside.

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the rest of the salad ingredients. Chop the broccoli into small florets and the orange into...pieces. I don't get fancy with it. Wash the lettuce and tear into pieces, but don't add it to the salad until you're ready to serve it. (If you're planning on serving the salad much later, I would probably wait to prep the lettuce, but a couple of hours wrapped in a towel in the fridge isn't going to harm the lettuce too much, and it means less work later.)

Make the dressing: squeeze the citrus juice into a small bowl and add both the vinegars and the olive oil. Add some salt and pepper. Whisk to combine and see if it needs more oil.

Pour the dressing over the cooked and drained lentils and stir to combine. Fold in the broccoli and orange, and stash it in the fridge for a few hours. (3? ish?) When it's time to eat, heap the lettuce on a large plate or in a bowl and place the lentil mixture on top. Garnish with sesame seeds. Enjoy!

* I used tiny black "beluga" lentils, but french ones will work well too, as well as ordinary green or brown lentils. Don't use red lentils as they'll turn to mush.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Market & Kitchen, July 11

The star of last week was totally the smoked pork chops. I had one and it was wonderful, and I have another in the freezer for some future meal. Plus, I trimmed out the bone & most of the fat and tossed them in the black bean pot, which was a delicious addition but they turned the most frightful grey-black colour. It's like I was cooking some sort of monster meat (hmmmm, a thought for hallowe'en maybe...)

I bought a few things earlier this week: Canned tuna and organic coffee at the drugstore($2/3 and $5/300g), 4 oranges and a jalopeño at a local fruit market ($2 for the oranges and $0.08 for the jalopeño), and sunflower seeds, 2L of organic milk, wheat germ for bread baking and some powdered skim milk at the bulk food store. ($5.78, $0.55, $0.31 and $3.16 respectively)

(I'm going to try my hand at making yogurt today, which is what the extra milk & powdered milk is for. It's such a great hot-weather breakfast with granola or fruit (or both), but organic yogurt is crazy expensive. Plus I like to DIY. (when it comes to food anyway...not so good with a hammer) I'll let you know how it goes)

Then I visited not one but two farmer's markets. First up was St. Lawrence Market, a large food market in downtown Toronto that operates 7 days a week, but the farmer's market is only on Saturdays. I love SLM, you can get absolutely anything there and it's so much fun to walk around and look at all the food, but I have a hard time sticking to a list when I go so today I got in and out as quick as possible. I also went earlyish (8:15) to beat both the crowds and the rain. Here's what I bought:

Cherries for $3.95 and super fresh eggs for $3.40. The eggs got rained on a bit.

Then I went to my local market and bought some vegetables:

Broccoli, peas, 1lb spinach, and garlic scapes, $13 but I don't know how it breaks down.

But I wasn't able to get everything I wanted, so I stopped at a fruit&veg shop on the way home and grabbed a couple more things, and then at a bakery for some bread for lunch, since I really wanted eggs for lunch and eggs without bread is just wrong.

$0.51 for the zucchini, $0.79 for the lettuce and $2 for the asparagus. The bread was $0.50.

Phew. I finally made it home not quite before the rain started but thankfully before the real torrential downpour began. All told I spent $43.02 this week so I'm still under budget for the month ($99.24 for July so far), and the pantry is well stocked. I did forget to get an onion (since there were no green onions at the market) but I don't think that will push me over :P

On the menu for this week:
  • black lentil, broccoli and orange salad (dressing: lime, balsamic, olive oil, s&p; with sunflower seeds) serve on chopped lettuce, with garlic bread
  • soup with onion, garlic, tomato paste, chicken stock, black beans, rice(?), spinach, peas. With cornbread (leftovers to freeze)
  • pasta &garlic scapes & asparagus, green salad
  • potato & spinach frittata, green salad (will make a large one and freeze the leftovers)
  • black beans on rice, sauteed zucchini, green salad
  • aloo mattar (pea & potato curry, use up vegetables) with yogurt on the side, brown rice
One night I'm going out to dinner with a friend. Lunches will be leftovers of the above. Breakfasts will be yogurt & granola (or oatmeal if its cooler). I've got oranges, cherries, peas, asparagus, and broccoli for snacking, and if I have too much of something on the vegetable front (ie spinach, asparagus...) I can blanch and freeze it. Going for a no-waste week, because I like a challenge. Looks like it's also going to be a vegetarian week. That will be a first for me. Oh wait, the chicken stock. Ok, almost vegetarian. Whatever.

I am also very peeved, because my herb plants have bugs on them! The internet tells me they are whiteflies, and my Mom suggest spraying them daily with water with a bit of dish soap in it. So that's what I've been doing, and hopefully it works, but there's going to be little in the way of fresh herbs for the next couple weeks I think. Shoot.

Lots to do today: The yogurt is cooling down before I add the started and set it to ferment, and I also have plans to make granola and chicken/vegetable stock this weekend. And possibly a bread product of some sort (more on that later...) And the kitchen floor needs to be mopped and I have wet laundry to hang up so I'd better get cracking.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Food Waste Friday

This week's food waste: a morsel of a lime and a hardboiled egg. I threw out the lime because it was blurry and poorly lit. The egg was a loss though; I brought it to work (You can see the rest of this week's lunch photos in yesterday's post) and then just really didn't want to eat it, so I had to throw it out. Booo. Better luck next week--aiming for that no-photo week.

This week's lunches: July 6-10 2009

I take a packed lunch nearly every day. When I'm on the ball I pack it the night before; when I'm really on the ball I take a picture and post it on the Internet. It's more for the sake of record keeping and my own interest than anything else, but I thought I'd share a bit.

I started putting more effort into it when I was putting in long days at school and was often packing both lunch and dinner. I often take inspiration from Japanese bento box style meals, mostly in terms of preparation and packing rather than the actual dishes.

Despite my interest in food and cooking I eat a lot of the same things. An example is carrot sticks. I could eat raw carrots until I turn orange. (Hopefully I won't, apparently that's an actual possibility...wasn't there a House episode about that?)

I love love love my Lock&Lock containers...they're air and water tight, and the large sizes are perfect for lunch, while the smaller ones hold snacks well. I generally don't microwave the plastic, so if there is something I want to microwave I put it in the large...muglike thing. It doesn't seal as well though; if I'm bringing soup I'll often freeze it so it stays solid and is less likely to leak.

Most things I eat at room temperature: my lunch only spends ~3-4 hours in my desk in an air-conditioned building so I'm not too worried from a food safety perspective. The eggs you see got eaten midmorning, so they were only out of the fridge for 2 hours.

You can see more in my flickr stream.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Blog love: Cheap Healthy Good

I've decided to start featuring blogs here that I visit often, and that I find particularly cool, amusing, or inspirational, or that I just think deserve more traffic. While I could just put up a list of links, this is more fun.

The first of these is the two year old blog Cheap Healthy Good. Every week, Kristen Swensson (along with columnists Leigh Angel and Jaime Green) delivers without fail a collection of recipes and related articles that live up to the blog's stated aim of promoting healthy and delicious food on a budget. And all this without delving into the realm of mystery ingredients or bizzare coupon combinations.

The food is relatively seasonal (there is a useful list of in-season produce for the northeast US on a sidebar) and accompanied by tasty photography and funny commentary. All of the recipes on CHG include nutrition and cost breakdowns. Recent dishes include Escarole and White Beans, Quinoa with Mustard Greens and Shiitake Mushrooms, Sublime Fruit Salad with Mint, and South Indian Cabbage. One thing I particularly like is the frequent inclusion of recipes for greens, which are some of my favourite vegetables (and are all over the market this time of year!)

Apart from the recipes, there are articles about cooking techniques and philosophy (really!), the food industry and food media, and large weekly link collections to interesting stories elsewhere on the internet.

In short, CHG is a great recipe resource and a wonderful read. If you've never visited, a good place to begin is this recent post listing the top ten recipes of the site's second year of existence.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


It's been a good day.

On Sustainability

'Sustainable' is a word that gets bandied about a lot lately. Solar panels, bamboo tshirts, and laser-cut felt placemats are all touted as 'sustainable' choices, and while the term isn't misused as much as 'green' or 'eco-insert-adjective-here' there's still a lot of murkiness around what makes something sustainable (or not).

But sustainable is more than just low carbon emissions and a happy pig. It means a process, product or habit that can last, that we can continue doing and pass on to our children and grandchildren. From a shorter term outlook, it means habits and routines that we as individuals can keep doing, without burning through our money or energy reserves. Sustainable also means not racking up credit card dept or letting the dishes pile up in the sink, because like it or not eventually both of these things have to come to and end and so we do the dishes regularly and stick to a budget.

In my work life I'm sometimes a computer programmer. This is relevant because creating a sustainable life (which is really the whole topic of this post/ramble) is a little bit like software engineering: in both cases, you're trying to create something that can run on its own as long as it needs to, without using up too much memory or hard drive space in the process. And you want it to be robust as well, so you try and anticipate errors or unexpected outcomes and figure out ahead of time how to take care of them. You try to write code that is maintainable as well. This means that further down the line (looking ahead once again) whoever needs to change something, add a feature or fix a bug should be able to do so with a minimuam of fuss. (Even if it's only for yourself--two months later it's not always obvious what your own intentions were.) So you design your program in a way that makes sense, and you document it so that things are even clearer.

And its not just in programming or engineering that these kinds of considerations take place. Lawmakers, business owners, and managers of any group or organization (even one as humble as a single household) are trying, in the ideal case, to create sustainable processes. The details might differ (substantially) but the basic ideas are the same: efficiency, minimization of waste, robustness in the face of unexpected events, and maintainability and/or documentation.

None of this is easy. As a species, we have a tendency to concentrate on the short term, to make things work the best we can "for now" and apply band aid solutions when they (inevitably) stop working. So it's no wonder that our leaders seem to spend so much time squabbling over details. And it explains at least in part why something as simple as balancing a busy life is so difficult. The scale is different but the elements of the problem are the same. And on the largest scale, we are also trying to figure out the future of the world and the environment as a whole. Assuming we haven't killed ourselves off in the next hundred years, a sustainable society is the ultimate of long-term goals.

But back to the smaller scale again. I recently moved to a new city (again), and for the first time I plan on staying in one place and doing approximately the same thing for several years. So I've had an opportunity to think about sustainability from several angles. And I've found it comes up in a lot of things. It's in taking care of my apartment so that it's a place I'll enjoy coming home to again and again. Sustainability is also making sure that I take time for myself and not let my work become my whole life. Because if not, eventually I'll burn out and end up losing more than I put in. And on a broader scale I'm trying to reduce my impact on the environment and to live in such a way that I think we all could for a very long time. This last one is much more ambitious, and more difficult, and I'm not an expert and pretty certain I haven't got it right. But that's important too. It's a process of building habits and baby steps rather than wholesale changes or stringent limits. Because in the end the small changes are more lasting (i.e. sustainable), and isn't that the whole point?

Edit/addendum: I was going to make a point about this blog being like documentation so I know wtf I was thinking about, but I forgot to add it and now it doesn't really fit. Oh well, some other time.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Market & Kitchen, July 4th

It is absolutely gorgeous outside today, so I've been making the most of it: walking around my neighbourhood, checking things out and going into all the stores I've spent the last month walking past but not actually entering. I wandered around this morning looking for garage sales (OK, it was a little more premeditated than that) and bought a bunch of cookbooks for $2:

Martha Stewart's Healthy Quick Cook
The Urban Peasant - James Barber
A Passion for Vegetables - Paul Gayler
The Original Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896!!) - Fannie Merritt Farmer

The last one should be an interesting read if nothing else....I also bought a butterfly shaped cookie from the kids manning the snack booth, but passed on the lemonade. The cookie is not in the picture because I ate it immediately. Ahem.

A decent haul at the farmer's market:

White Icicle radishes (on the left); the woman at the market said they & the greens were milder than normal radishes...I've already eaten some of the greens in scrambled eggs for lunch, and they were delicious. ($1.50)

Zucchini, spring onions, and mustard greens. I've heard of mustard greens before but I haven't seen them around. I'm eager to try them since I like peppery mustardy things. ($4.50)

New potatoes ($4)

Smoked pork chops from the Mennonite basically bacon, I'm guessing. Sweet! I trimmed the bones and fat off one and rendered the fat to start the black beans I cooked this made my apartment smell amazing and gave great flavour to the beans. ($10)

No strawberries garage sale adventures meant I showed up a little later than I normally do and there weren't any left. I still got some though--I went to the 'natural' food store nearby and bought a pint ($5) of local berries and some oranges ($2.30).

I also hit up the bulk food store earlier this week and stocked up:

I bought hard and soft whole wheat flour (I marked one bag with a twist tie and I think it was the hard flour one....oops), brown long grain rice, ground flaxseed, oatmeal, raisins, black and romano beans, cornmeal, cinnamon, and peppercorns. Mostly organic (the raisins, spices, beans and flax are not) and ~$19 for the lot.

So that's $46.61 spent on groceries this week...I still need to get milk and yogurt sometime, and coffee which I am completely out of (gasp, choke). That will push me over my weekly budget of $50, but I'm stocked up on a lot of things now so I expect I'll be good for the month.

This is what I'm planning on cooking this week:

Black bean & rice tacos with shredded mustard greens, salsa, and cheddar cheese
Pizza with herbs (I don't have enough basil for just that so I'll probably add some oregano...maybe some of the radish greens?)
Black beans, steamed or sauteed mustard greens, cornbread
Lentils & rice from the freezer, quick pickled carrots, the rest of the radish greens
Fried rice with carrots, peas, green onion, egg
Roasted new potatoes and zucchini, broiled pork chop
Ginger-lime salmon with zucchini en papillote, lentil & orange salad

Lunches will be leftovers (especially pizza...) and some tomato soup and chicken rice from the freezer. For snacks I have carrot sticks, oatmeal molasses muffins & cornbread, strawberries, oranges, and I'm going to hardboil some eggs as well. Phew!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Food Waste Friday

This is a Thing. Started by Kristen, Food Waste Friday is a chance for bloggers to take pictures of slimy, icky food! Yay!


Ok, it's actually a set day for people to go through their fridges, or freezers or pantries, and see if there's any food they've let go to waste. By documenting it the hope is that we can be more aware of what we're wasting, and ultimately reduce or eliminate waste all together. In case you needed a reason why, or if you just abnormally like statistics (what? Numbers are cool), get this: about 30% of edible food is wasted in the US and UK. (source) Mind you, those numbers are over ten years old...I wonder if things have changed at all? And in which direction?

It's pretty rare for me to throw out a significant amount of produce. Because I'm only one person, keeping track of what I have and what's about to go off is pretty simple. And I don't think I've ever let bananas go bad...usually if they're about to go critical I bake muffins or throw them in the freezer until I can do some baking. Unfortunately, these went south faster than I realized, and there was collateral damage: I made a sort-of fruit salad with a kiwi and had to chuck the whole thing. Which is annoying, because the kiwis at least were tasty. Ah well.