Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wychwood Farmers Market - my goodies

We went, in the rain, to the Wychwood Organic farmer market this morning to pick up our meat CSA box, and to check out the vegetables! This is not our usual market - it's across town - but since we were going anyway we decided to see what there was.

It's been a great year at the farmers market so far. I usually go to the Riverdale Farm Organic Market, and the stalls have been burgeoning. Wychwood was no different!  Here are my goodies.

The most amazing thing is that there are both Ontario cherries and strawberries. Apparently the cherries are over three weeks early! I've been stuffing myself with Ontario strawberries - small, sweet and intensely flavoured - since they started two weeks ago. The vendor at the market said this weekend was the end of them. A tragedy - but we enjoy them all the more because their season is so short.

I was also thrilled with the mushrooms this week - I got shitake, baby king oysters (which are so delicious sauted in a little butter that they make me cry with delight) and a double hand-full of wild morels.

Another vegetable I love, that also has a short season, is sea asparagus.  It grows on the sea shore on the west coast - which is admittedly a little far away for a
"locavore" vegetable. But its a worthy treat and usually only available for about two weeks per year. It is quite salty, since it actually grows on salt water shores, and I usually soak it for an hour or two before cooking it. Then when you boil it - lots and lots of water. Then you saute it in butter. I like to serve it with fish (or just in a big bowl, which I then refuse to share).

Just this year, I've been seeing more small dairies out at the market with their cheeses. Two weeks ago, I bought a pressed sheeps milk ricotta from a vendor at the Riverdale market. Today I bought this gloriously ripe ash covered goat cheese at Wychwood. Is there anything better than a stinky, oozing soft cheese? Yum.

Anyway, I am serving the cheese tomorrow as a pre-dinner snack. I am having a small dinner party, where all the guests are vegetarians who eat fish and some dairy. The rest of the menu is also based on today's shopping: I went to the St. Lawrence Market and got some gorgeous wild Atlantic Salmon. I'm serving that with a crab and scallop crust, and then the whole thing gets cedar planked on the barbeque. I'm serving the sea asparagus with it, as well as tiny, red, orange and gold carrots and some many-grain whole rice. I think I will also transform the biggest $2 romaine lettuce I've ever seen into a caesar salad. For dessert, I'm planning strawberry short cakes - but I'm making the cakes from this great white chocolate cake recipe I got from my friend Joan, and I'll use of my home made creme fraiche instead of insipid and boring whipped cream.

Life is good!

Meat, Vegetables and CSAs

I admit it, I'm a carnivore. However, I have become convinced of the benefits of organic grass finished beef, as well as pastured pork, lamb, and even chicken and turkey. First of all, meat animals that have had something like a normal life, and that eat grass TASTE fabulous rather than like a combination of fat and and cardboard. Second, grain in an animals diet changes the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats in a negative way. Grass fed animals (in other words, animals that are eating what they are evolved to eat) produce omega3:6 in, as you might expect, the precise ratio that makes them most beneficial for human consumption.

For this summer, rather than hitting the markets and farms as I have done in the past, I discovered a CSA that does organic pastured finished meats - beef, pork, lamb and chicken.

CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture". In general, a CSA farm sells shares of their crop to anyone who wants to buy one for a lump sum in the spring (Usually around $600-$800) and then every week until the end of growing season, you get a share of whatever has been harvested. Your money up front means that the farmer has some liquid cash to buy seed etc without having to go to the bank, and you also accept some of the risk - for example, if the lettuce gets attacked by some horrible bug, you don't get any lettuce. On the up side, you get loads (and I mean LOADS) of picked-today organic veg. Generally, CSAs have a number of central pick up points where you go to collect your goodies.

But I'd never come across a CSA that did meat before - until now. The Stoddart Family Farm offers 10 pounds of mixed organic meats per month for 6 months for $495. That's about $8.95 per pound. You'll never find organic grass fed meat at Whole Foods for that price! All the meats - lamb, beef, chicken and pork, are produced organically on their pasture. I also picked up an "egg share" - thats 4 dozen duck and chicken eggs per month. These are barnyard eggs from birds that spend their days on the grass. If you want to learn more about the Stoddart Family Farm, their website is

Today I picked up my first box. There are 3 chicken quarters, two cuts of berkshire pork, and  beef burgers. The challenge for Jeff and I will be to stay within 10 pounds of meat per month, but we decided to try it for the duration of the summer CSA, which goes until November. We also eat lots of fish, and I'm planning a couple vegetarian nights per week as well. We'll see how things go.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Can video games save the world?

In my recent class called "The Adolescent Brain", I learned about the 10,000 hour rule, which essentially states that if you spend 10,000 hours mindfully practicing/learning something, you'll be an expert on it. Ten thousand hours is also about the number of hours one spends in public school between grade 5 and high school graduation. And 10,000 hours is about the average number of hours that gamers play their on-line games before age 21.

So a 10,000 hour gamer is getting a complete alternate education, AND becoming an expert at something. But what? Saving the world, of course.

This talk by Jane McGonigal at a TED conference goes into some depth on this topic, and also talks about how to begin harnessing all the "save the world" expertise to go after real world problems. This is an interesting and thought provoking talk...

So after listening to the talk I went an had a look at the three games McGonigal was talking about: "World without Oil", "Superstruct" and "Evoke". They all looked amazing, but I am most struck by "World without Oil" because it has lesson plans!

I was thinking it would be amazing to use the "World without Oil" in a Media class. There are 10 lessons, so you could do one per week, and have a couple weeks after to examine how the experience as a participant in content creation, citizen journalism and crowd sourcing feels from the inside and informs how we interact with what we read and see in the media. Just as writing poems helps students read poems more intelligently, creating a media response might help their overall media literacy. There is tons of opportunity to write, make video, post photos, etc, since the students are required to keep a blog. I hope I get a chance to teach this. It would be suitable for some English classes (especially Media, obviously, and most of the workplace level classes). Also, I think you could make it work for some for the business classes as well. Entrepreneurship, General business, international business. SO interesting!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Vegetable Garden

There's nothing like planting a new garden to lead me to want to start all sorts of new things. I've been thinking about a new blog for a while. I feel like I've outgrown my Live Journal account, although it certainly fulfilled its purpose.

I have this idea that I should focus on a single passion and write only about that, but anyone who has known me for more than five minutes will know that will never work for me. Still, I do have a number of topics that I do intend to post about: urban gardening, education, career changing, cooking, dining and restaurants, working out, news, organic farming, quilt making. Maybe a little bit about technology - at least a posting about why I love my new iPad, anyway.

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My house in Toronto is a narrow three-story Victorian in an established area downtown. It has quite a large deck off the third floor (about 11x17') that has great sun exposure and, as far as I can tell, no bugs. So, I decided to experiment with what I might be able to grow in containers. I decided to start small - 14 containers (plus three additional tomato plants) and about 25 bags of dirt.

Since I have no idea what will grow up there,  I decided to plant a little bit of everything. I thought this year I could see what did well and next year, I could be more focussed.

So I have fava beans (my favourite!), two types of eggplant, peas, various herbs, five kinds of tomatoes, parsnips, onions,corn, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, beets, potatoes, three kinds of cucumber, and kohlrabi.

In the picture, three vats haven't sprouted yet. I decided I could fit a few more vats and added the carrots, beets and potatoes earlier this week. It's late planting for them, but if things go so late they are endangered by frost, I can just pull them inside and put them under the skylight.

I'm also experimenting with the tomatoes. I read an article about terrace gardening that suggested tomatoes could be planted "over the edge" - so that they grow down on the outside of the terrace. In the article, the writer said she grew her tomatoes from the  the top of her roof, and they just ran down the slope. My rooftop would be reasonably assessable by ladder from the third floor deck, but I don't think I'm quite that obsessed yet! It's too high and too sloped for me to ever feel safe up there! However,  I am looking out the back window and the roof of the garage actually looks kind of promising. It gets good sun and it is gently sloped. And it isn't too high. Maybe next year! Seriously. But I think I'll wait to break this plan to Jeff until after the deck garden is a huge success!

I ran out of containers, so I just planted the tomatoes directly in the bags of dirt. Then I taped the holes up so the plants wouldn't fall out.  It isn't very elegant, but the plants seem to thriving anyway. There is a small corner shelf where I set the bags. If all goes well, I'll put a shelf in along the whole length of the deck next year. There would likely be room for 15-20 tomato plants. More than enough to can a bunch of tomatoes and tomato sauce, which is my goal.

So far, though, the tomato plants in the vats on the deck are the big winners. The Roma tomato is leading - it already has 14 tiny green tomatoes starting on it. No other tomato plant has more than 3 or four.