Posts Tagged ‘rantings’

Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children???

First off, I don’t have kids, nor do I ever want them.

In fact, if I’m to be brutally honest, I’d have to say that I generally despise the smarmy little buggers (with the exception of the kith and kin of a few friends or relatives of mine, that is).  For comfort’s sake I usually prefer to keep a fair amount of distance between me and the lot of them with their bad manners, foul mouthes, entitled attitudes, short attention spans and constant orbit of gadgets and technology (/rant).

That being said, there’s been a lot of talk about children in the media lately.  There’s plenty of discussion surrounding the obesity epidemic that’s facing their generation and how as a society we need to focus our energies to improve and shift their current fate.  Mrs. Obama has her Let’s Move initiative, Alice Waters has the Edible Schoolyard program,  and Jamie Oliver’s recent TED Prize wish was to teach every child about food.  Of course, that’s merely a sprinkling of the many projects attempting to tackle this multi-faceted problem, but these 3 just happen to be some of the most highly visible.

On the surface they all sound like rather noble causes, and certainly there is a degree of credibility behind the idea of educating children about food and exercise in order to stem the tides of an obesity related epidemic.

And anyone who has seen the promo clip of Oliver’s upcoming show (specifically the kids that don’t know the difference between potatoes and tomatoes at around 1:16 in the video) should be able to grasp the positive ramifications when kids get switched on about food.

However, the point where I often find myself flummoxed is when people start talking about banning, outlawing, taxing or restricting certain foods deemed to be “unhealthy” from school premises  in order to achieve that goal.

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Truly Outrageous

Yesterday afternoon I had the chance to watch episode 2 of Hugh’s Chicken Run, which is a BBC show that features Britain’s own Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (of River Cottage fame) exposing the realities of commercial chicken production.

I intended to write about this yesterday, when I could still feel the fire of indignation in my belly, but the more retarded of our 3 cats chewed through the power cord on my laptop charger, thus leaving me without access to the interwebs.  My ranting has likely grown a little more subdued than it would have been immediately following the show, but it still raised questions nonetheless.

In the second episode, Hugh takes a group of people he’s convinced to raise chickens on a tour of a poultry-rearing facility that he’s constructed as a small-scale model of the difference between conventional and free range birds.  He fills half of the giant shed with 1,600 chicks destined to have a relatively charmed existence, while the remaining 2,400 or so( of the 4,000 birds he starts with) are crammed into the same size shelter on the other side of the barn.

The free range birds obviously have a little more space because there are less of them on their side of the shed, but they also get perks like bales of hay to roost on, balls to play with, CDs to peck at and access to the great outdoors.  What might seem like small concessions make a world of difference to these birds, as is evidenced by the flock of perky, upwardly mobile chickens pecking and scratching around.

By contrast, the conventional birds were much more cramped in their space, and had no “toys” to play with at all.  After several weeks they could barely walk, having eaten so much (during the 23 hours a day they’re encouraged to eat) that the poor birds had grown faster than their legs could support.  The carpet of bird shit was so heavy that apparently the barn stank of ammonia and many chickens were getting “hot spots” on their legs and feet (which is a pleasant way of saying they were being burned by the chemical reactions of so much shit coming into contact with their extremities).  Having so many birds confined to such a tiny area also increases the chance of illness infesting a flock, so any time a sick or slow bird was found, it had to be removed.

On top of that, Fearnley Whittingstall discusses how he has to cull many chicks because they are smaller than the rest and won’t make “market weight” at the same time.  Because this unfortunately represents no profit, they must be dispatched.  Throughout the show you can see him becoming increasingly shaken with each cull, but on the conventional side, birds are only given 5 to 6 weeks to live and one cannot risk the safety of the flock with ideals.

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Confessions Of A Corporate Drone

Pasta, Wine And Cheese - The Dinner Of Champions

Work has been brutally kicking my ass lately, which is one of several reasons why I haven’t been updating as often as I’d like to.

It’s literally been so busy that it hurts; to the point that I’ve found it’s exacerbating an ulcer I’ve had on and off for nearly 10 years.  For the past few months I’ve been working on a huge project that takes up all of my time (and then some) and I live the project, eat the project and sleep the project.  It’s kind of exhausting.  Every couple of days I’ll be at my office and some coworker or other will tell me how I look like shit lately.  Well, duh!  Of course I do!!  I’m running myself ragged and not sleeping because of how worried I am over whether it will all get done.  And the funniest thing about it is I’m not even working as a project manager anymore, so I’m really not accountable for the success of what we’re doing, but I just can’t turn it off, per se.

Of course, after a tough day at the office the last thing I want to do is stand around and cook for an extended period of time, but since the Everyman doesn’t really cook, that doesn’t leave too many options, otherwise.  Especially when I’m trying not to do takeout or delivery more than once or twice a month.

So, what’s a mentally drained peon to do?  Come home and whip up a sriracha-laced, crumb-topped, roux-thickened cup ‘o mac and cheese, of course.

And, it wouldn’t be complete without a sweet, refreshing glass of Gerwurtztraminer on the side, either.

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Seriously. What The Fuck?

Why?

When I was a teenager, my mom and stepdad owned a small bistro in a little town in Ontario cottage country called Dorset.

Dorset, for those of you who aren’t aware, is in the general area of Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, etc.

One of the things it is most famously known for is an old general store called Robinson’s.  These days, that general area (though Huntsville specifically) is also known as the hometown of the fabulously glam-rockesque Hawksley Workman, not that we’re keeping track or anything…

Now, during the summer that I was working at the bistro with my parents, I spent a great deal of time handing out advertising (menus and such) in front of Robinson’s.  And back then (nigh on 13 years ago), Robinson’s was an old fashioned general store with bits and bobs and handicrafts.  I’m not sure when during the last 13 years it merged with a Foodland store to provide a greater selection of groceries to the cottaging masses, but I’m sure you can sense how that in and of itself offended my sensibilities.  It seems that over the years, the little things that made Robinson’s unique have been slowly falling away.

So, I’m hoping you will also be able to understand how I found myself standing in the produce aisle at this Robinson’s/Foodland blend last week, full of moral indignation.

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Superfood Or Supercrap?

Powdered Acai

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that nutrition-based food claims make me more than a little uncomfortable.

It seems that for every “scientific” paper that proves the benefits of consuming a certain type of food or nutrient, there are still others disputing it.  In a way it’s no different than the claims made by the multi-billion dollar diet industry bent on pushing yet another new faddy regimen.  Every few months new research surfaces to show that some thing (that until recently had been a workaday foodstuff) has been catapulted out of obscurity and into the limelight.  At times it makes me wonder if all of these studies are in some way connected to each food’s saavy marketing board…

In the last few decades, we’ve had studies revering margarine and vilifying butter.  Years later, butter faced a (luke-warm) reprieve, if only due to the fact that research arose stating that margarine had gross things like trans fats in it.  Then there was the jump on the olive oil bandwagon, backed up by research into the healthful Mediterranean diet.  And on, and on, ad naseum.

Which then prompted a string of books about why one culture’s diet was better than another, including French Women Don’t Get Fat, (a book a well-meaning friend once brought me to stave off boredom while I was sick) that among other things advocates living off a watery leek broth when you’ve overindulged (real healthy… snerk!)  Or the (more than a little smug) rebuttal Japanese Women Don’t Get Old Or Fat, which I bought for the express purpose of seeing what exactly they would claim was better in their “lifestyle” book than the French one, but 3 years later, I’ve yet to get past page 2.

The revolving door of nutritional recommendations doesn’t stop there, either.

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Major Suckage

A Sunfloweresque Bloom

The garden thus far has sucked hard this year.

I’m sure you’re all aware of that based solely on how little I have mentioned it in posts (other than to deride it’s general crapiness, that is).

Lonely Sungolds

While this year everything is stunted and weak and quite lame, by this time last year we were enjoying full flourish, with a pint of tomatoes (our main crop) to be picked every other day.  This year, all I’ve gotten so far is a bucketful of lettuce, handfuls of strawberries and scads of small, unripened tomatoes.

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There Go(es) My Hero(es)

I think it goes without saying that Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and Mrs. Obama are some of my heroes.

I also can’t forget the guys behind King Corn, who have a new documentary coming out this winter called Truck Farm, that deals with their quest to grow a market garden in the confines of the flatbed of a pickup truck.  It’s such a stupidly funny concept that it’s got me wondering why I didn’t think of that.  But to my credit, I am growing most of my food in ugly kiddie pools.

All of these ongoing efforts to bring the campaign for healthy, local, sustainable food to North America are admirable in their dedication, and are definitely not going unnoticed.  More than ever people are taking an interest, whether by reading labels, shopping at farm stands or just growing their own food at home.  We’re witnessing a pivotal moment that could shape the way that food is mass-produced for the children of tomorrow.

However, a few recent articles have put me on to two other people whose goals I admire.  Over at NY Times, you can read about Will Allen, a former professional basketball player who is now putting his talents to use by growing crops and feeding people in urban food ghettos.  The man’s charisma literally oozes off the page, with an aw-shucks kind of quality to everything he says.  Not only is he changing the world, but he’s humble about it, too.

Building on the concept of aquaculture, there was an article about this guy in the Globe and Mail about two weeks ago.  I’m not a huge fan of most cooked fish though I adore sushi, and I would never have a use for one of these setups, but nonetheless, I think what he’s doing is amazing.  It’s that kind of fringe thinking that makes me optimistic that our global community can find a path to sustainability.

And then there’s Jamie Oliver; during the last 2 months The Food Network has been airing a whole slew of his programs geared toward food awareness.  First there was Jamie’s Ministry Of Food, which focused on teaching a town in England to cook.  It was so popular that it’s been picked up for a US version that will feature Ryan Seacrest (ugh!)  Then there was the kitschy, slightly game show-esque Jamie’s Eat To Save Your Life, in which the charming Oliver gets all bedecked in a ridiculous looking suit and perambulates around the stage, informing 18 Brits about the many ways that their terrible eating habits are quietly killing them.  Using shock and horror to poignant effect, one segment shows a woman sitting in a bathtub filled with all the fat she would consume in 5 years at the rate she was going.  The next one hour episode in the series, Jamie’s Fowl Dinners shows a room full of guests excited to have a dinner cooked by Oliver being educated on the vast differences between free range and battery farm chickens instead.  Jamie even manages to get an interview and inside look at one of these battery farmhouses, which is more than could be said for the guys behind Food Inc. It’s seriously disturbing, from the way the coops are extremely overcrowded, to the fact that most of the chickens can barely walk, right down to the end of the show where Oliver learns and demonstrates how to humanely dispatch a chicken.  It’s not something you’d necessarily want to see, but if you’re going to eat meat, you should be able to stomach how it happens.  As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also got an episode on pork (yet to air in Canada) cheekily named Jamie Saves Your Bacon.  I suppose if anyone can do it, Jamie probably can, although even I will admit that after a while some of the shock-rockery of his schtick gets a little bit old.

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The Pervasiveness Of Food Porn

Nom

Years ago, the term food porn primarily referred to those glossy spreads of salaciously styled meals in culinary magazines or chef-authored cookbooks.

The food itself almost seemed to take a back seat to the implications that one could not possibly enjoy a meal unless it was as artfully arranged as that displayed between the covers.  As entertaining as it might be to flippantly peruse the pages of the latest foodie publications, all of this imposed perfection has the detrimental effect of discouraging home cooks from actually cooking anything, by setting them up for failure.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought twice about trying a recipe (on the rare occasion I use one) because the accompanying photographs left me with an uneasy sense of dread, knowing that whatever I made would never look like this.  To that end, I don’t subscribe to many foodie magazines anymore, whereas at one time I couldn’t move around my tiny apartment without tripping over a stack of Gourmet, Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, etc.  Now I tend to focus on magazines with a purpose that is more substantial than superficial or skin deep, like Edible Toronto.

Plus, now I have the internet when I need a fix of some food porn…

First there were sites like FoodPorn, then came Tastespotting, Foodgawker, Photograzing, and countless others.  The community-driven visual potluck (as Tastespotting calls itself) is page upon page of softly lit, flawlessly portioned food, each photo portraying fare that is more preciously unattainable than the last.  On several occasions I’ve submitted content to Tastespotting and Foodgawker, only to have the editors inform me that my food is not appealing enough.  While I suppose that charcuterie’s heyday has not yet hit its apex of popularity, I still think that my photos had some merit.  It’s nice to know that society’s consistent across the board now in judging food solely on it’s looks, as we do with just about everything (and everyone) else (sic).  Though I still keep tabs on a few of these sites today, I find that instead of being a place to share all manner of food photography, they’ve become an exercise in unrealistic one-upsmanship.

They say that you eat with your eyes first, and to a certain extent I agree.  However, throughout history there have been many dishes and even whole cuisines whose appeal goes far beyond their rustically plebian presentations.  One dish in particular that comes to mind is the Italian dessert brutti ma buoni, which roughly translates to ugly, but good.  The meringue-like cookies, which are typically chock full of pinenuts, hazelnuts, almonds and orange zest, might not have the visual fireworks of a New York Black And White, but they are quietly tasteful, and still pretty darn good.  And truly, if we only concerned ourselves with ingesting “pretty” food, we wouldn’t have sludge like Taco Bell, now would we?  As with people and all things in nature, just because something isn’t beautiful, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.  A well-prepared veal cutlet on a bun is a delicious treat, but in most cases is nothing to look at.  There’s no reason that visual blahness should invalidate its culinary significance.  At the end of the day, taste should be the overriding priniciple that we are striving to achieve.

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Not So Convenient, Actually

I’ve said it before, but it looks like I don’t need to say it again.

Someone has finally gone and done a study to prove that convenience food isn’t actually all that convenient (nevermind the long term effects some of it will have on your health).

As it is so succinctly put in this Grist article, just because something is pre-packaged doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any easier in the end.  For example, if you use canned vegetables instead of fresh ones in a casserole dinner, you may save a few moments between opening the can vs washing and preparing a whole food, but it becomes pretty moot once you realize that the food still takes the same amount of time to cook, anyway.  Essentially, it will take you a comparable amount of time to prepare something wretched like Hamburger Helper as it would to cook fresh pasta and toss it with a quick veggie sauce.  So where’s the disconnect?  Is that extra 10 minutes or so of prep time really that hard to come by?

Food prep is relatively minimal unless you’re trying to create elaborate, multi-course meals, anyway.  This is part of the reason why I don’t understand the appeal behind the glut of prep kitchen centres that are popping up all over the burbs, lately.  Why would I want to drive there (or in my case, walk), figure out what I want to make, then pay a premium to assemble a small armies’ worth of dinners in little ziploc baggies amidst a room full of frenetic soccer moms, instead of just being mindful and planning my menus in advance?  There’s no doubt that life has become increasingly hectic, but at a certain point one has to draw the line and make time for the things that are important to them.  Health, would ideally be one such priority.

Meal planning in and of itself is a lost art that could help people save so much time in the kitchen if they bothered or knew how to use it.  Planning a week’s worth of meals and then shopping for the ingredients to prepare them is simply…smart.  You can purchase foods that might be more time-consuming to prepare, and then cook them in bulk so that they are ready for you to use several times over.  An excellent example of this would be cooking with dried beans.  Yes, they usually take 12 hours to soak, but if you soak several portions’ worth and cook them, you can save leftovers to use in other dishes.  A surprisingly small outlay of time on the front end can drastically reduce the time spent further down the road, if you have a plan.  It’s not rocket science; just another version of mise en place.

This article, published back in 2000 provides insight into the declining nature of time spent on food preparation in North America.  Looking back to the 1900’s, food prep and clean up amounted to an expenditure of 44 hours a week, which is understandable since everything was manual.  Advances in household technology throughout the 1920’s helped that number dip below 30 hours a week, and by 1975, it had plummeted to 10 hours per week, what with more women working outside the home or running single parent households.  Extrapolating from the Grist article an average of 52 minutes spent on meals today would put our modern total around the 6 hour mark, a pretty dismal amount when you think about it.  At that rate, some people probably spend more time watching TV in one day than they spend cooking over the course of 7 days!?

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The Allure Of A Home Cooked Meal

For a while now I’ve often wondered if I’m overreacting, or whether the problem I see with my generation is real…

It seems like more and more people in my age group love to eat gourmet food and watch the pretty people flipping and whisking and tossing food around on the shiny, happy Food Network machine.  Yet, for all this love of celebrity chefs, gourmet kitchens and cooking culture, fewer people actually do any home cooking, or even know how to, for that matter.

In my opinion, it’s an alarming sign of the times that the popularity of meal assembly kitchens is drastically increasing.  These innocuous-seeming “cooking” centres make people believe they’re cooking, as they stumble aimlessly from station to station to assemble the ingredients of a pre-posted recipe from little containers of mise en place.  It is to real cooking what paint by numbers is to the Mona Lisa.  The quick and easy defence of these establishments is the same old saw about modern people leading busy lives, etc, etc, but that can only hold so much salt.  Meal preparation and nourishment will only be important to my generation (or the ones that come after it) if they make it important by declaring it a priority.  People say they have no time to cook, yet they’ll happily spend hours zoned out in front of a television or computer screen, or wasting countless time on social networking utilities, which are one of the most ironic inventions.  Everyone spends less time having face to face conversations with the people they care about, and more time isolated with their gadgets and trinkets communicating in LOLspeak.  Yeah, I can totally see how that would be considered “social”… (eyeroll)

I attribute that change in social dynamics to the decline of the home-cooked family meal.  The dinner table used to be the central area in any household for family to gather and discuss the day’s events over a hot meal, but how many people even eat at a table together, anymore?  Without that daily interaction, we’re raising a generation of kids who can’t properly communicate or carry on a decent conversation, nevermind manage to cook on their own.  Or worse yet, the old Sex and the City joke about Carrie using her stove as storage space never seemed to be met by the appropriate response (how sad) but instead by the giggles of women thinking to themselves, how quaint.  The reality is, if she’d eaten all of her meals outside of the home instead of cooking for herself, she’d probably be closer to 300 pounds; but that image is not quite as “sexy”.  They laugh because culturally we’ve rebelled against the idea of cooking being women’s work by leaving the household and holding down full time jobs of our own instead, but cooking isn’t “women’s work”, it’s everyone’s work!  The injustice of it all is that by rejecting cooking in favour of working, we’ve actually helped to create a generation of kids that don’t know how to cook, because they never experienced it at home.  Such a travesty.

The funniest thing is that people are fatter and lazier and unhealthier than ever, yet so few people see the correlation between taking the time to prepare food for themselves and living a healthier lifestyle.  Food prepared outside of the home is more likely to contain preservatives, chemicals and additives (like Twinkies) that you may not know anything about, but if you read food labels, you already know that.  Better yet, it just makes sense to buy food that doesn’t need to have a label (like whole foods) because then you know they have less additives.  When you take the time to cook for yourself, you have the choice to bypass all of those unhealthy extras, whereas you are bloody helpless and at the mercy of a food company if you buy something prepared.  The bottom line?  Cook for yourself and you are as in control of what you put into your body as you want to be.  Leave it up to someone else and who knows what you’ll get, because the truth is they probably don’t have your best interests at heart, they just want to make money.

40 years ago home cooking and baking was still a pretty commonplace activity in most households.  Nowadays when I mention to friends that I bake, or jar my own slow-cooked tomato sauce, I’m met with an equal mixture of awe and confusion.  It is so far outside of their realm of experience or knowledge anymore that they just can’t imagine taking the time or making the effort to do these things on their own.  And in the rare cases that they could, they don’t seem to have the faintest idea where to start.  It’s a shame too, because preparing even the simplest meals now seems to be so sadly esoteric to a great swath of my generation.  I’m not immune to this scenario either, as the Everyman only knows how to make 3 chicken dishes (plus grilled cheese) which practically guarantees that if I want a home-cooked meal I’m liable to have to make it myself.

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The Extent Of My Stupidity

One night last year I was desperately looking for something new to slather on a few quarter chicken legs that I intended to barbecue.

Something I had read on the internet or seen on television (I can no longer remember which, though I vaguely recall Alton Brown) prompted me to attempt to create my own signature dry rub.  I swear I saw Alton talking about it on one of his shows, and how it was important to label said spice rubs with dates and ingredients, lest you open up your cupboard 6 months later and have no clue what the heck that jar full of brown was.

Two guesses about what I didn’t remember to do…

I have this glorious little 4 ounce tin of a spice blend I made that is absolutely transcendent; hot, tangy and pungent – but I have no recollection of what exactly is in it.  For a while I thought I had written my recipe down somewhere, but at this point if I did, I put it somewhere so safe that even I can’t find it.

I know you’re thinking how hard could it possibly be to recreate, right?  Well, blending it took me the better part of a half hour because I put in about 20 different herbs and spices.  I think at the time my intent was to come up with my own kind of ras al hanout-type blend, something that would have many layers of flavours throughout.  Based on visual cues alone I can identify a handful of its contents (celery seed, epazote, pimenton), but not nearly enough to properly duplicate it’s majesty.

Fuck.

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Better Now Than Never

Meyer Lemons

I’ve purposely avoided talking about the garden thus far this year because it’s become quite the point of contention.

Whereas by this time last year I was already knee deep in lush and healthy plants, this year I’m seriously struggling to get them out of the ground.

The influx of cooler, rainier weather has been a hindrance to the rooftop growth, but as of this weekend it looks like we’re finally starting to get somewhere.

Chinese Hot PeppersAnchosJalapenos

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Very Nearly Thwarted

Mother Nature can be a bit of a bitch sometimes.

I very nearly planted all my fragile tomato seedlings yesterday after I got a surge of gardening gusto.

It seems that only by sheer dumb luck (and aching muscles after hauling that damn triple mix) I managed to avoid setting them out into what turned out to be a frost warning this morning.  I did plant a shitload of lettuce mix, beets and shallots though, and am hoping they were covered enough to not be affected by this.

It’s just so frustrating!  We’re nearly halfway through the month of May, and we’re still having frost warnings?  What is that all about???  The growing season here is short enough without having to worry about stuff that’s already been put out being killed by coldness Mid-May.

I had planned to get flats of strawberries this weekend from Urban Harvest, but now I’m not so sure.  I can’t afford to waste money on something that might not last more than a few days in our topsy turvy weather system.  I think it essentially encapsulates the one thing I hate about gardening; I can do everything else perfectly, grow the best plant from seed, nurture it like crazy, etc, but it doesn’t matter one fig because I can’t control the weather.

It’s equal parts humbling and infuriating all at the same time.

Until next time…