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April, 2010:

Spotlight in the Sidebar

As mentioned in my last post of March I have been writing for the website Spotlight Toronto.  On Spotlight I have a micro blog for shorter pieces and they have also published longer articles from me.  I’ve added links to the sidebar here for all of my Spotlight articles and blog posts.  Click through and take a look.

Red Fife: Hype or Worth It?

The Red Fife variety of wheat has become a principal icon of local food consumption and production in Ontario.  It’s a landrace of wheat that has the built-in genetic variety to thrive in a relatively wide range of environmental conditions and comes with a great story about how it was grown by pioneer farmers in Ontario a century and a half ago.  The prominent mentions in the 100 Mile Diet, Earth to Table, and Locavore have, I’m sure, helped it’s popularity.

The two flours being compared in this early test

Knowing that this variety of wheat can grow near where I live is comforting.  From a “food security” standpoint I’m glad that it is stored in a seed bank somewhere just in case Saskatchewan and Manitoba separate, and are taken over by anti-capitalist, religious fundamentalists who refuse to trade their wheat with the rest of North America.  But, I wondered is it truly more delicious?  Is it worth the price premium?

I stopped in to Pantry (that’s @pantryTO on Twitter) at 974 College West to grab some of the flour made from Red Fife wheat last week because I found myself in the area and traveling by transit and foot.  Who cares if I was riding a camel?  Well, it’s relevant because if we’re truly interested in sustainability and reducing environmental damage we should be aware that we often negate any benefits of buying the organic, drip-irrigated, heirloom product that was harvested using the power of free-run, heritage breed donkeys by driving our SUV three or four times further than we would have for the conventional product. (more…)

Kidneys and Pancetta

This post is going to touch on three ideas that on their own wouldn’t make a full post and don’t totally flow together but it’s about cured meat and animal parts so I’m sure you guys will eat it up.

Earlier this year I made pancetta from scratch (part 1, part 2).  In the posts and in-person conversations about this project I have mentioned that I was relatively nervous about the project because of the whole mold-on-meat factor.  First off, no ill effects have been observed.  Spot-washing the pancetta in a 50/50 vinegar/water solution controls the mold and eliminates undesirable flavours.  Problem is that even after treating all the mold spots I could see with the vinegar, refrigerator temperatures weren’t cold enough to keep the mold from spreading. Luckily, the pancetta keeps better in the freezer and in chunk form thaws enough to be cut in fifteen minutes on the counter–I re-freeze the rest but I’m not a health safety expert so you’re on your own. (more…)

Building an Oven

Starting in the summer of 2007 I have been strongly considering the idea of building a wood-fired oven at  my family’s cottage north of Toronto.  I’ve engaged in a lot of talk and reading though not very much action but this year it has become a family-wide affair and looks like it’s going ahead.

I think it’s important we deal with the why before addressing the when, what, where, and how of oven construction.  Outdoor ovens do many things better than their city cousins.  They act as the focus for social gatherings, can add a slight smoky taste to food and keep the kitchen cool in the heat of August.  There is one thing that they can do that home ovens absolutely cannot: cook authentic Neapolitan pizza.  Some like Jeffrey Steingarten–who broke one oven and carbonized a pizza in another while trying to use the self-clean feature–have tried but without total success.  As discussed in my second pizza post from March 2009 Heston Blumenthal’s cast-iron pan method (that I borrowed from Serious Eats and the guys at The Paupered Chef) comes the closest.  A well-built, properly-tended outdoor oven can more easily reach the 750° to 850°F needed to cook an authentic pizza in less than three minutes. (more…)

Gardening in April

In Southern Ontario we have had a very warm spring this year.  No snow in Toronto in March (though a bit in April) and temperatures over 20°C on more than a couple days.  This is what May is meant to feel like–in good years.  Last year we had accumulated snow on the ground in the second week of April and I wrote a useful (I think) post discussing the concept of degree growing days.

Garden dug, compost spread, and surface raked: A blank garden canvas

From a vegetable gardening perspective the warm weather has caused a strong desire to start planting.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac site puts the average last frost date for Barrie–the city closest to our garden at the cottage–at May 26.  In my three years of vegetable gardening I have not experienced a frost this late and I’m willing to gamble that all the heat and sunshine we have has warmed the water and soil enough to protect hardier seedlings from any freak May frosts. (more…)