Friday, March 11, 2011

Organically speaking

any of us talk about making healthier choices when it comes to the food we eat, but a great number of people are deterred by the thought that buying organic/free range food is more expensive, and that attaining said foods is an inconvenience (i.e. not all major chain grocery stores carry organic food, so people have to trek all the way to a "health food" store to get it, then have to wade through miles of hippies, etc).

Fortunately, this isn't always the case.

Here in Toronto, stores like Loblaw, FreshCo, Metro and Sobeys either have sections dedicated to organic and healthy alternative products, or have these types of foods interspersed with their regular stock. When I went shopping at one of these stores recently, I found quinoa and kamut pasta right there on the shelf next to the wheaty ones, and there were all manner of certified organic bits to be found all over the store.
That being said, I prefer to support smaller local stores than the large chain ones, but if this isn't an option in your area, you may be pleasantly surprised to find such products where you least expect to.

While some "health food" products may be a bit more expensive than others, many of them are at the same price point, if not lower (if you don't mind buying in bulk). For example, at many health food stores, buying a bag of organic granola that you've shoveled into a sack yourself is far cheaper than oh, let's say... a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal (which, though delicious, is also not the healthiest choice as far as foodstuffs go).

I'm of the belief that the long-term benefits of eating for one's health are worth a bit of investment. The old adage "you are what you eat" holds true, as food is medicine in its own right, and what we put into our bodies has a profound effect on how our bodies and minds function. If this means shelling out an extra dollar for produce that hasn't been sprayed with carcinogenic, environment-destroying chemicals, I'm all for it.

Last week, Nathaniel and I had the pleasure of receiving our first box of produce from Mama Earth Organics -- a Toronto company that connects those who live here with local organic growers by delivering farm-fresh produce and other products to our homes. My first bite into an organic apple made my toes curl with happy, and we both had similar reactions when we tasted the Boston lettuce, blood oranges and other bits of wonder. These raw ingredients were exquisite, and the dishes we cooked with them had depth of flavour that just cannot translate properly into words.
Organic produce reminds me of what food tasted like when it was freshly harvested from the garden when I was a child. I remember picking tomatoes for supper after they'd been basking in the sunshine all day, and that crisp burst of tomato scent that wafted with each freeing tug was a small delight in itself.
Most of us have grown so accustomed to the flavourless fruit and vegetables that are readily (and cheaply) available in our local supermarkets that we have either forgotten or, even more sadly, never experienced what these foods should actually taste like.

Toronto has several organic home-delivery services that not only distribute produce, but also organic baked goods, preserves, dairy and meat products, and other delectable tidbits. In addition to Mama Earth, there's also Green Earth Organics, Front Door Organics, and though you have to pick it up yourself rather than having it delivered to your door, FoodShare puts together an impressive Good Food box as well.

In this week's basket, we received ambrosia apples, navel oranges, fair-trade bananas, shallots, rainbow carrots, Boston lettuce, spinach, fennel, black kale, and snap peas. We've eaten the snap peas raw, but we have plans for the other ingredients:

- Kamut soba noodles with kale and broccoli in a garlic-ginger-sesame sauce
- Fennel, carrot and apple slaw with a yogurt dressing
- Spinach and white bean soup (minus the turkey)

At least one of the bananas will likely end up in a smoothie of some sort. *grin*

As we continue to explore this city and its surroundings, we'll be keeping our eyes open for all manner of sources for organic foodstuffs, as well as sources for seeds to be able to grow herbs and veggies in our home garden. This weekend will include a trip to The Sweet Potato ,a health food store near our place in the Junction, and I've reserved a few hours to curl up in the window seat with a cup of tea to read my Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.

Have a gorgeous weekend!
Be well, walk in Beauty.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pioneer quest?

KAY... not quite a "quest" per se, but certainly a delving.
Let me explain: Nathaniel and I have been compiling a list of some historical places around southern Ontario that we're planning to visit over the next few months, and one of the places on the list is Black Creek Pioneer Village. I haven't visited that place since seventh grade, and Sir N has never been, so there's a significant measure of excitement in experiencing everything there from an adult's perspective.

Many of my own interests are more than a little anachronistic, so this forthcoming venture into Pioneer-world has caused the creative juices to churn and squeak, and I've come up with a creative endeavor that's going to be shared with my dear friend Kel, a soul-sister who lives on the other side of the world in the wilds of Tasmania: we're both going to create natural dyes from the native plants and mordants of our own areas, and use them in some artsy projects!  I'm aiming to dye both cloth and wool, do some sewing, and use the spun thread to embroider embellishments on whatever it is I'll be making.
This is exciting! I've been doing some research about the plants that are indigenous to our area, and can't wait to experiment with the colours I'll be able to create from the different plant parts. Of course, I'll have to wait for the snow to melt and the plants to actually start -growing- before I can harvest most of them to start dyeing, but there are some components I'll be able to work with fairly early.

I should be able to create light greens from the leaves of new herbs, pinks from early strawberries and sumac flowers, yellows from onion skins, etc. What I'll be creating with all of these components will be a surprise, but I'm really, really looking forward to the process.

In that same anachronistic vein, Nathaniel and I are aiming to learn some of the other things our pioneering predecessors would have spent their time doing, including canning/preserving berries and other fruit, brewing our own beer or wine, making our own cheese/yoghurt, foraging for wild foods, and tending a garden full of indigenous vegetables and flowers.

Spring really is just around the corner: the March rains will quickly give way to April's green, and we'll be prepped and ready to go!