Friday, May 29, 2009

Silky Spring Baba Ganoush

We went to little India last weekend, and I couldn't resist buying some of my favourite kind of eggplants – beautiful purple little baby ones like these. I got hooked on these back when I was working in the Granville Island Public Market. We'd get all kinds of eggplants flown in from India and Thailand, and these ones became part of my regular repertoire when someone told me they were perfect roasted and blended into baba ganoush.

Done this way, their flesh is silky, pillowy soft, with a warm smokey flavour. Heaven. Blended with lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, basil, and a few spices, it becomes a dip so delicate and delicious that I want to just slurp it off a spoon, no crackers needed. It is delicious with pita though, or veggie sticks. I'm dipping some yellow and orange pepper slices into it right now, making this perfect sunny Friday afternoon even more perfect...

Spring Baba Ganoush
10 baby Indian eggplants (the ones I used were 2–3 inches long)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic
generous glug of olive oil
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/8 tsp smoked paprika
Fresh basil to taste (I used two stems picked from the little pot on my windowsill, about 10 large leaves)
salt and pepper to taste

Use a fork to pierce the skin a few times on each eggplant and then wrap each eggplant individually in foil. Roast eggplants in 450 degree oven until they are softened to the point that they collapse when you squeeze them softly (about 30–45 minutes, depending on size of eggplants).

Remove foil and plunge the eggplants into a bowl of ice water. Peel the skin off and cut off stems. Put eggplants in blender or food processor and add remaining ingredients. Blend until super-smooth and silky.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Summer has started say the patio meals and me

There is absolutely nothing better than sitting on a sunny patio on an endless weekend day with people that make you happy, an icy beer or a spicy caesar, and craving-worthy food. And I got to do this TWICE in the past two weeks. Which means the best season of the year is here. I don't care at all about that June 21st technicality. It's summer.

The top photo was taken at the Canoe Brew Pub in Victoria, where I shared a lazy Saturday supper with my Mom two weekends ago. We were out shopping (plants, couches, tea) and decided it was time for a patio beer break. Canoe has the best patio in the city I think – big stone tables, a view of the industrial part of the harbour rather than the tourist hordes, and beer brewed on the spot. A bitter stretched into a lager, then into calamari, and then dinner.

Our sun-induced laziness was smart in the end – the Grilled Steak Waldorf salad I ordered was delicious, going far beyond what you'd generally expect from a patio spot. I really want to recreate this salad at home. Delicate endive, tart apple slices, firm yet creamy sheep cheese (Salt Spring Island Montana – such a good cheese), perfectly-crusted flat iron steak, and walnut vinaigrette. Mmmmm. I'm diggin' the salad with meat as dinner lately (another post coming up on a Thai chicken and green mango salad I made tonight that was equally awesome).

The second photo was taken yesterday on the patio at The Five Point on Main Street. This was a classic Sunday afternoon patio meal, caesar, coffee, and all. My first time at the Five Point, and I think I ordered well. This sandwich was kind of like a lamb version of my favourite pulled pork. Messy, slathered in barbeque sauce, soft bun, lots of peppers and onions. So good. My mind is reeling with ideas for how we can put our lovingly-battered little BBQ to use down at Sunset Beach this summer, and I think I'll try to recreate this too.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Community garden update

Nothing has gotten me out of my computer chair and my work-induced funk lately like the community garden plot (now plots!) that we've planted this spring. What a fantastic idea it was to convert this potential condo-building site to a lovely communal growing space. Even if it's only temporary, whomever thought it up should be commended. In her last post Meg wrote about the potentiality of the plot (and how her friends might "get their hands dirty" – how true!), and now I'm just going to update everyone as to how things have progressed.

What do a bunch of city girls and boys know about gardening? Not too much, it turns out, which is why we needed to team up! Ryan, Carla and Darryl laid the topsoil on the plot and we returned to it last weekend to sow our seeds. We planted a variety of good things, including zucchini, pattypan squash, basil, chard, beets, cilantro, shallots and peppers in raised rows (inspired by the next-door-neighbour garden, I have to say, not by some innate gardening skill). We planted seeds according to the heights they might achieve, the amount of sun they would get, the room they would need to grow – and (of course) – the directions on the package!

We were astonished to find that pepper seeds actually look like the seeds you find in peppers; squash seeds look like the seeds you find in squash! Who would have thought? Perhaps we are a little too removed from the cycle of growing things, but it had never occurred to us that those seeds could actually produce ... produce. Incredible.

A few days later, in a spate of good luck, Michelle learnt that there were still some plots going, so she snapped one up, and we headed back to the garden to put topsoil on it and plant some seeds sent to us by Tessa; these included yellow beans, arugula and mixed herbs, savoury and parsley. We left one row fallow (for which some Victorian cucumber plants are now destined!).

One of the things that has gratified me the most about the experience is the community aspect of it all; people who would pass by us anywhere else in the city of Vancouver with nary a word are now cheerfully regaling us with their stories, idle chat and gardening advice. I've heard about new techniques, various strategies and Newfoundland hard tack sea biscuits (mm). It's been great.

It's also great to think of reaping the fruits (or veg!) of our labours – there are already sprouts springing up in little bright green rows on both plots. Unbelievable! We actually managed to start a few seeds on their way. I guess all that rain is good for something after all! I can't wait to see what develops, gain a little gardening knowledge along the way, and hopefully produce some tasty and (very) local meals with our harvest. More to come!

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Two exciting steps closer to eating local

I've spent most of this week in bed and on the couch dealing with a really bad cold and thinking about how to keep myself healthier. Eat more fruits and veggies! More vitamin-rich foods! Get more sleep and exercise! While I was creating this list in my head, two messages arrived in my inbox presenting exciting opportunities towards these ends.

The first was something I had been waiting for hopefully, but not sure if I'd be so lucky – an offer to purchase a share in the Urban Grains CSA. Urban Grains is a community-supported agriculture program. This is their first year of operation and their aim is to demonstrate new possibilities for local eating by providing Vancouver residents with access to grain grown locally in Agassiz.

I had signed up for their email updates many months ago and had been eagerly following their progress as they searched for a farmer to partner with and made decisions about how the CSA would work. I wasn't sure if I had joined early enough to be a part of it this year, so was so excited to be offered a share. At the end of the summer, I'll have in my hands a 20 kg bag of locally grown and milled whole-wheat flour!

I can't even visualize how much flour that is, but I'm sure I'll be packing up some smaller bags to pass on to my local-flour-loving friends and family. In exchange for recipes maybe? I'm going to need to amass a serious collection of whole-wheat bread recipes over the next few months in order to properly put all of that flour to use throughout the year. It's so great the way things come together – just as I've been learning to bake bread and really enjoy it as one of those good-in-every-way things, Urban Grains has success with their initiative and I get to be a part of something really awesome in the community. But so far a lot of the bread recipes I've been lovin' are white flour breads, so please share your favourite whole-wheat recipes with me! And, check out the Urban Grains blog to learn more about the CSA or get your name on a waiting list.

The second exciting email came a few days later – news that I've got a spot in the Davie Village Community Garden! I had previously been told I was on the waiting list, so had given up hope for this year. But management of the garden has changed and I guess they must have increased the number of plots or something because now I'm on the list. Number 94 to be precise, but out of 130, that's no so bad. I'll be going there on Saturday to register and be assigned a plot – so exciting.

And, also a bit scary. I have next-to-no gardening experience. But enthusiasm, passion, and a huge love for fresh local veggies – I've got all that. And a sister and mother who are gardeners-extraordinaire and always willing to answer my pleas for advice via phone. And... a bunch of friends who I think will be happy to get their hands dirty and put their minds together with mine to figure out how to do this, in exchange for a share in my small plot. That's how I'm hoping to do this – make my plot a mini community within the community garden, and see what we can do. I think together we'll be able to have at least some degree of success! So let me know what you think we should grow. Beets are already on the list (for Ryan and Carla, and also because I love them roasted so much), as is chard (suggested by Tessa because it can be harvested leaf-by-leaf as you need it, and because it's so so delicious). What else should we attempt?

So, great news and two important steps toward my slowly-progressing goal of eating locally and being more healthy. And, a small third step – I bought a little rosemary plant earlier this week and it's happily re-potted and chillin' in the sun on my windowsill. My makeshift herb garden begins again. It's going to be an awesome, healthy and happy, summer and fall.

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