Friday, August 6, 2010

Pity party.

hinge alert ahead: you've been forewarned.

See the woman.
See the woman with big hair.
See the woman with big hair sulking at her desk.
See the woman with big hair sulking at her desk and having a complete self-pity party because she can't remember what cinnamon tastes like.

BLOODY HELL this is hard.

It really hit me this week, and I don't mean in an epiphanic way, but rather in a manner more befitting the fairly crunchy experience of having a 2x4 smack into my cranium.

I'd mentioned in previous posts how much I've been missing tea, and it's gotten to the point where I find myself daydreaming about it. Is that pathetic? I find myself wandering through the spice aisles at stores, fondling cloves and star anise, and stroking vanilla beans in a manner that could almost be construed as inappropriate. Same goes for coffee, and I've never been much of a fan of that particular beverage.
Nathaniel caught me with my face half-buried in a can of coffee grounds, inhaling deeply in an attempt to fend of the gnawing cravings that are tearing through me, though I'll not go into further detail about that particular moment of depravity in an attempt to leave some small vestige of my dignity intact.

This is unbelievable.

Strangely enough, I'm not craving avocados as much as I thought I would... I am, however, craving lemons, chick peas, pepper, cinnamon (as mentioned), OLIVES, and pickled herring so strongly that it almost feels like I will wither and die without them.

(In regard to the herring, I'm more of a pescetarian than full fledged veggievore, and we Northern Euro folks have a bit of a penchant for pickled and smoked fish products. Be happy I'm not delving into the subtle wonders of Kalles Kaviar.)

We have 46 days and just a little over 8 hours left in this challenge, and I'm starting to wonder if I have the tenacity to get through it without having a complete breakdown. Should this really be such a trial? I mean, this is just a question of food preferences and personal likes/dislikes, right? We're eating AMAZING food, learning to forage, being super creative with our cooking, supporting local farmers, and certainly not going "without"... are we just so accustomed to the plethora of exotic ingredients that we've been fortunate enough to have that being without them actually makes us go through serious withdrawal?

All I know is that right now, right this very moment, far from being in a position where I am wholeheartedly lauding the merits and marvels of locavore life, I am going over menu options for September 21st. Samosas laden with cumin? Padh thai? Latvian sprats on toast? I haven't decided yet, but if I'm in the same state of mind then as I am now, I might just spend the day rolling around in the emptied contents of my spice cabinet, thanking whatever gods are out there for trade routes, and drinking a London Fog the size of my bathtub.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Zucchinis and peaches, oh my!

ell, well. It -has- been a while since we updated, hasn't it? Many apologies: we've both been a trifle swamped with work and whatnot, and haven't had much time to dedicate to blog writing. Nathaniel will be posting as soon as he's able to, and in the meantime I get to dominate the blogosphere with my flowery prose and pretty pictures. *grin*

It's been a little over a month since we've been on this locavore challenge, and while I was correct in assuming that things haven't gotten any easier per se, there have been some advances. For example, I no longer burst into tears when someone asks if I'd like a cup of tea... I just get a bit misty-eyed and quickly change the subject.

We've both also learned to be very creative in terms of our seasonings when cooking and baking. One thing I can certainly say is that there is a local company that has completely saved my sanity during this challenge: The Ewenity Dairy Cooperative. Located just outside Guelph, they create sheep milk products (including cheese, yoghurt, and ice cream), and not only are they some of the nicest people I have ever met, their products are gorgeous. Being vegetarians, it's been rather difficult to ensure that we're getting enough protein, so the ready availability of these amazing dairy treasures has been wonderful.

Also wonderful is the fact that this is the time of the season when most fruits and vegetables are at their peak of "goodness". Farmers' markets are starting to be inundated with peaches, pears, apples, currants and GROUND CHERRIES (personal favourites of mine,
can you tell?) as well as various squashes and root veggies. I'm focusing on two in particular for this blog entry: the zucchini, and the peach.

Most people cringe when they think about zucchinis (aka "courgettes"), generally because they haven't had very good experiences with them. To be honest, my own exposure to this delightful vegetable was limited to the zucchini bread we'd receive from a friend of the family every summer when her garden was overrun, and though it was delicious in its own right, it really didn't do much to make me want to eat more of it.
Fortunately, I have a predilection for French cuisine, and one dish from the Provence region uses zucchini in a spectacularly gorgeous way: paired with eggplant, tomatoes, and herbs, zucchini is one of the primary ingredients in ratatouille.
When I make ratatouille, I don't follow a particular recipe. I use what I have in the house (in varying quantities), and just sort of throw it all together. I don't measure anything, so the "recipe" I'm about to share is more of a rough guideline -- should you choose to make your own version, you could try to find a classic one online, but I'm a strong proponent for making up your own creations on the fly.

In today's version, we have:

1 large eggplant, peeled and chopped
1 large yellow zucchini, chopped
1 large onion, diced
a few leaves of basil, shredded

3 cloves garlic, minced
4 medium tomatoes, chopped

local herb mixture similar to Herbes de Provence
Niagara balsamic vinegar

canola oil
maple syrup
chipotle pepper puree (we brought back a can of chipotle peppers when we came back from California, and are using it very sparingly in various dishes. Will explain the use later).

Pour a fair bit of oil into a large pot and set it to medium heat. O
nce it warms, add the onions and toss until they begin to soften. Add the zucchini, eggplant, salt, and herbs, and toss around for about 5 min. Then add the tomatoes, and continue to cook on med-low heat until the tomatoes give up their juices. At this point, add a touch of balsamic vinegar, a tiny bit of maple syrup to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and vinegar, and if you're not on the 100 mile challenge, a fair bit of cracked pepper. Since I like spice, I used a little bit of the liquid that the chipotles created in their can to add a depth and richness of flavour to the dish, as well as a bit of a spicy "kick".

This is all left to simmer until the vegetables are so soft that your great grandmother could slurp them through her dentures. In the autumn, I serve the dish piping hot with a side of warm crusty bread and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Now, in summertime, this will be served cold.
I chill it in the fridge for 4-5 hours, serve with thinly sliced toast triangles, and a glass of Pinot Gris.

...and what of the peaches? you must be asking by now. WELL THEN.

The half-bushel of peaches I bought at the Dufferin Grove farmer's market has been put to very good use: Not only have I been eating them raw, but I baked a pie with them too!!

Baking on the 100 mile journey is a HUGE challenge, since we can't use most of the ingredients we're accustomed to having on hand. Sugar? Baking powder? Shortening
? Nope. Sooo... we make do with what we can, being creative on levels I'd have never imagined. With this recipe as well, these are just rough estimates as I rarely measure out anything.

2 1/4 cups flour (I used local spelt flour)
pinch of salt
maybe 1/3 cup butter?
ice water

Add a pinch of salt to the flour and add the butter bit by bit
until the flour comes together into pea-sized blobs as you mix it with a pair of forks. Then add ice water a small spoonful at a time until the dough all sticks together, then wrap it up in plastic and stick it in the fridge for an hour. Do NOT work the dough with your hands!! The only way you get that flaky pastry crust is if you let the butter stay cold in the dough throughout the process.

Take 2/3 of the dough and roll it out between 2 pieces of waxed or parchment paper, and lay this into a buttered pie pan. Smooth it down to form the lower crust, and bake for 10 min. Remove from the oven and set aside


7 or 8 peaches: pitted, and sliced thinly
2-3 tablespoons of maple syrup
1/4 tsp of grated fresh ginger
corn starch

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Put the sliced peaches in a bowl and let sit so that their juices flow out and get all soupy. Add the grated ginger, and a couple of tablespoons of corn starch to thicken the mixture. Stir well, and let sit for 5 min or so.

Fill the pre-baked lower crust with the peach filling.
Take the remaining dough and roll it out as previously, only this time you'll cut it into thin strips to create the lattice top. Alternately, if you're a lazy bum like I am, you can just lay down one set of strips and then cover them with strips in the opposite direction for a faux-lattice effect. Ha!
Once the lattice top is on, press the edges down, toss it in the oven and bak
e for approx 40 min, or until the crust has gone a gorgeous golden brown.

This isn't a terribly sweet pie, so if you're not doing the 100 mile challenge, feel free to sweeten it up by adding a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar, or pralines, or whatever other bits you think would be amazing in it. My dear friend LilyBelle would likely eat something like this with a massive dollop of vanilla ice cream, but for those of us who don't have a raging sweet tooth, the subtlety of peach, ginger, and maple is a rather lovely finish to a light summer meal.