Sunday, December 1, 2013

December: The Rules

As of January 1st, 2014, these are the new rules.

All sugar-laden breakfast cereals with cute child-friendly cartoons on the box shall be banned.  The manufacturers of the three worst, Golden Crisp, Fruit Loops, and Honey Smacks, each of which contains more sugar than a Twinkie in every bowl, shall pay the equivalent of three new diabetes wards in fines.

Anyone who regularly crosses the border to shop for food at American super markets shall have all OHIP privileges revoked.  Since they prefer to pay their taxes to America and prefer to support American farmers and grocers, they can get their health insurance over the border, too.  Good luck.

Cooking classes shall be mandatory in all high schools.  The curriculum shall include nutritional information, meal preparation, shopping procedures, and include field trips to farms and local markets.  Exemptions will be granted to any student who can prepare and present a reasonably nutritious meal from scratch and who demonstrates rudimentary knowledge of healthy eating practices.

Anyone using a hand-held electronic device during meal times shall forfeit the device permanently.  This includes texting, video gaming, phoning, tweeting, and wearing ear buds or headphones.  In addition, all televisions will be turned off during meals.  To assist with compliance, television networks will be required to program only infomercials for hair removal products between the hours of 5:30 and 9:00 pm.

Sweet soft drinks such as Coke, Pepsi, and their many cousins which contain more than ten teaspoons of sugar in each can, will be more heavily regulated than alcohol.  Sale will be strictly limited to a six-pack per week and anyone caught supplying minors with this poison will be put on a restricted diet consisting of kale, spinach, sunchokes, and arugula (blended for breakfast, salad for lunch, stir-fry for dinner) for a period of not less than one week.

It shall be required that parents sit down for a minimum of one hour with all children living at home to consume a meal at least twice per week.  Said meal must be prepared from scratch with the assistance of said children and may count as homework for the afore-mentioned mandatory cooking classes.  Conversation is optional, but encouraged.

Supermarkets shall be required to carry local produce when it is available.  Any store selling strawberries from California, or asparagus from Chile, or tomatoes from Mexico, or garlic from China when such produce is being grown at Ontario farms shall have its entire parking lot turned over to a farmers’ market every weekend for one year.

Advertisements for fast food restaurants shall be required to include warnings about health risks and feature really, really gross pictures of people suffering from the results of a steady diet of their products.  Such advertisements shall also be strictly regulated to have no child appeal.  If parents want to take their kids to such unhealthy environments, they will do so without the encouragement of brainwashed children.
There.  I got that off my chest.  Amazing how a little venting makes you feel better.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

November: Community Gardens

Congratulations to the Pelham Horticultural Society and Pelham Communities in Bloom Committee for putting forward an initiative to create a community garden in Pelham.  The Town, moving with its accustomed caution, is collecting information about whether such a radical project will meet with voters’ favour before committing to it.  If there was ever a no-brainer, this is it. 

Community gardens are public spaces where people in the community can borrow or rent a small plot of land to grow their own vegetables and flowers.  Often, they are developed in conjunction with community housing projects or low income support projects and plots are given free to those in need.  But many are open to rental by anyone with a hankering to do some gardening and no appropriate place to do it.  What is there not to like?

Other Niagara Region communities have been enjoying community gardens for years.  St. Catharines, Grimsby, Niagara Falls, and Welland all have received Regional money to develop and sustain their gardens and according to media reports, they are an enormous success, both with people who might need some help with putting veggies on the table, and those who volunteer some time to show them the gardening ropes.  Climate Action Niagara lists eleven community gardens on their website, including gardens in Fort Erie, St. Catharines, Welland, and Chippewa. There’s one at Brock University, another at Niagara College’s Welland Campus, another at the Vineland Research Centre, and on.  As welcome as the Pelham initiative is, one can’t help but wonder what took so long!

The benefits of a community garden are many, besides the obvious one of supplying wholesome, home grown food, especially to those in need, a concept that is a the heart of Slow Food Movement.  There is the beautification of our town, along with community pride in undertaking a worthwhile project, combined with an increased sense of community as experienced gardeners share their secrets with novices.  And the environment will thank us for an intelligent use of vacant land, and the fostering of awareness about our food supply and food growing practices.

Is there a down side?  I certainly don’t see one.  If a community garden costs taxpayers a few dollars, it is money well spent for benefits that can make an important immediate impact, and potentially some really significant, long term, sustainable improvements to our community.

However, the Town wants our feedback on a survey before they take the next step of actually discussing the issue and maybe, eventually sending it to committee, getting staff to provide input and recommendations, debating it at Council, and one day, maybe in our lifetimes, approving a community garden project for Pelham.  Oh well, we have to start somewhere, so go to  and fill out the survey.  This is a bandwagon we can all jump on with pride and pleasure.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

October: Stale Bread

Ours is a throw-away society, perfectly comfortable with disposable everything, from diapers to razors to all manner of packaging.  As I have noted in this column, our food waste is enormous, actually exceeding our consumption. 

It wasn’t always so.  Diapers used to be cloth and washable and razors were at one time steel, able to be sharpened with a strop, and made to last a lifetime.  Even the safety razor was built to last forever, though it used disposable blades.  Today’s multi-bladed throw-away is a small-scale environmental disaster.
And food packaging!  Don’t get me started.  I am especially sensitive to this issue, having just returned from a holiday in Italy and France where we shopped at markets and took home our produce not in shrink-wrapped plastic, but in a reusable bag, our meat in a slip of wax paper folded at both ends, and our bread in a twist of paper.  And that brings me to the actual subject of this column: stale bread.  French and especially Italian bread is good for about three hours before it dries out.  In those three hours it is delicious.  But the Italians (among others, including the French and British) have developed recipes to make use of bread that is beyond its best instead of throwing it away.  This allows for guilt-free eating of bread bought at the local boulangerie or panificio twice or even three times a day.
I have written about my favorite recipe for garlic soup before… a concoction that uses stale bread as a thickener, and knocks out colds and flu bugs like a heavyweight prize fighter.  Another wonderful use of stale bread is in an Italian salad called Panzanella.  As unappetizing as “stale bread salad” might sound, this makes use of fresh flavourful ingredients to produce a deliciously different summer treat… and recycles bread that is beyond its best.
1 ½ to 2 Cups diced fresh tomatoes
½ Cup diced green onion
3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil (or more to taste)
½ Tbsp chopped fresh oregano or Herbs de Provence
1 clove crushed garlic
2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
3 Cups diced stale French or Italian bread 
Mix together all the ingredients except the bread and let sit for half an hour for the flavours to blend.  When ready to serve, stir in the bread chunks so they are well coated and season with salt and pepper.
Note:  Don’t even try to use ordinary plastic wrapped sliced bread for this salad.  First, it doesn’t seem to go stale and dry out, and I do not want to know what’s in it that accomplished this.  Second, when it is mixed with any liquid it turns to wallpaper paste, and “wallpaper paste and tomato salad” sounds even worse than “stale bread salad”.

Monday, September 2, 2013

September: Waste Not, Want Not?

In a land of abundance, there is no region more abundant than ours at this time of year.  We are among the most fortunate people in the world when it comes to the availability of good, fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.  The many Farmers’ Markets in Niagara are bursting with produce, and shoppers are thronging to them in record numbers.  Increasingly, the big chain supermarkets are paying attention to consumer demand and we’re seeing local produce and products on their shelves… a most welcome change from days past when it was rare to see anything local in our supermarkets.  In addition, we have been seeing a significant increase in organic, heritage, and sustainable food being grown in our region.

That’s all good news.  The bad news is that so much of that food goes to waste.  In Canada, we waste about $27 billion worth of food every year, according to a report from theValue Chain Management Centre (VCMC).  What is worse, it is not food production, food packaging, food transportation, food service, or food storage that is to blame for the bulk of that wastage;  household waste… food thrown in the garbage by consumers like you and me… accounts for more than half.  In a land of abundance, we have become so used to buying more than we can eat that we don’t even think about how much we throw away.

To look at the issue another way, we throw away almost 40 per cent of the food we buy, or around 172 kg per person per year… in a nation where 9 per cent of the population is called “food insecure” and about 870,000 people rely on food banks month by month. 

This is a complex issue, and the simple answer (“Stop wasting food, and everyone will have enough”) is simply not true.  Even if we suddenly stopped wasting so much food, that wouldn’t put the surplus food on the tables of those who need it.  In fact, I suspect the problem is insoluble.  The only thing we can do, if we care enough, is become conscious of the issue and each of us in his or her own way, resolve to do better.

One way of doing better is to take surplus fresh food to organizations that exist to redistribute donated foods to those who need it.  Pelham Cares is such an organization and they welcome fresh food for their program of providing for those in need.  Is your garden overrun with tomatoes or cucumbers or zucchini?  Were you too ambitious when you bought three bushels of peaches to preserve?  Take the excess to Pelham Cares and let them give it to people who need it.

Another way to reduce the waste is to recognize what “best before dates” really mean.  These dates are not about safety, but about peak quality.  Canned and packaged goods can be safely eaten long after their best before dates have expired, and even dairy products, if properly stored, will last well after their best before dates.  For a complete list of what you can keep and how long, refer to an article in the Globe and Mail, published Nov. 19, 2012 and available on line.  And if eating “expired” foods turns you off, consider taking them (so long as the packaging is in good shape) to Pelham Cares.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

August: Packing Light

A wilderness canoe trip is one of the most relaxing activities available to us.  Oh, it’s not relaxing in the “put your feet up and do nothing” way, but it’s one of the only ways to escape the stresses that are part of everyday life and decompress in the quiet and beauty of natural surroundings.  This is especially true for people who are surgically attached to their Blackberries and other devices that allow them to take their work and other stressors with them wherever they go.  Smart phones don’t work in the bush; there are no radios, televisions, video games, or computers.  
               Valerie and I just got back from a magical ten days in the interior of Algonquin Park, where we saw an average of about three people a day  (and those usually at a distance across a lake), and were completely out of touch with anything electronic.  The weather cooperated magnificently for the entire trip, and we paddled across calm lakes, set up camp on isolated islands, swam whenever we got warm, saw moose and loons with their new offspring, and even fished a bit.
               Whenever we talk about our canoe trips with friends who don’t venture into the wilderness, we are asked about food.  Ten days or two weeks without a refrigerator can present a challenge to people who love their food, but over the years we have developed a few tricks and techniques that enable us to enjoy good camp meals… maybe not strictly according to Slow Food principles, but nonetheless, good compromises.  Remember, we are carrying our food with us, so not only does it have to be able to go without refrigeration, but it ought to be light, compact, and easy to prepare since we use either a campfire or single burner camp stove as our only heat source.
               The first couple of days into the trip, we enjoy pre-prepared and frozen meals, kept cool in a collapsible, soft sided cooler bag that can be compressed and stowed when it’s empty.  Chili, stew, curry, smoked chicken, ribs all are available to us during this period and we’ll typically take corn on the cob for the first evening meal.
               Once the cooler is empty, we rely on packaged or dried foods for the most part.  Pasta is an important staple, and we will use our home-made pesto or a packaged sauce with it.  Gourmet Mac and Cheese is easy to carry, light, nourishing, and tasty for dinner.  Oriental and Indian cuisine figures largely in our menu, since the ingredients are often dried or packaged in such a way that makes for easy rehydration and light cooking.  The only down side of these packaged meals is the amount of sodium they contain, so we try to alternate packaged with non-packaged meals.
               One treat we always look forward to is Valerie’s Mexican Fiesta.  We take dried refried beans, salsa, nacho cheese sauce in a pouch, tortillas (we have even experimented with making our own from corn flour), and taco seasonings which we combine to produce a very tasty and filling taco feast.  Instead of salad greens to top the tacos (since salad would long ago have rotted) we sprout our own seeds in a plastic tube.  Soaking the seeds a couple of times a day causes them to germinate and grow into fresh and delicious sprouts… our camp salad content.
               By the end of a long trip, we resort to freeze-dried meals.  These are specially prepared for campers, canoeists, cyclists, and hikers and typically are compactly packaged meals in a pouch that can be prepared very simply by rehydrating and cooking for a few minutes… or in some cases, just by adding boiling water.  As unappetizing as these sound, some of them are actually really good, especially near the end of an extended trip in the bush.  How about chicken and dumplings, or Hawaiian pineapple chicken, or Cuban coconut black beans and rice, followed with freeze dried crème brulé or mint chocolate chip ice cream? (Really!) 
Camp meals are certainly not the same as you might expect at home or in a restaurant, but if they allow us to experience a glorious couple of weeks in the lakes and rivers of Algonquin or Quetico or Killarney, then, Slow Food or not, they are gourmet fare.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

July: Food in the news

Two very closely related but very different food related items caught my attention last month.  The first is a study of preschoolers that clearly shows eating in front of a TV or computer has serious health consequences.  The second was an interview by Jian Gomeshi on the CBC radio programme Q with food writer Michael Polen, who stressed the importance (and the decline) of home cooking.

The study of preschoolers by St. Michael’s Hospital doctor Navrinda Persaud and his team set out to determine if the levels of bad cholesterol (HDL) were affected not by what you eat, but how you eat it.  Elevated levels of HDL in preschoolers is a key indicator of health issues like cardiovascular problems in later life.  The study determined that kids who eat in front of the TV or computer monitor have higher levels of this dangerous cholesterol.  In fact, Dr. Persaud actually made the point that there was a stronger correlation between eating behaviour and high cholesterol than between what was eaten and high cholesterol. 

While this may be counter-intuitive on the surface, the study team points out that kids who eat while watching TV are not paying attention to what they eat, and tend to ignore the cues that tell them they’ve had enough.  “They’re just kind of shoveling it in,” says Dr. Persaud.  The study concludes that “evidence suggests promoting responsive feeding, where adults provide appropriate access to healthy foods and children use internal cues (not parent directed cues or cues from the television) to determine the timing, pace, and amount they consume.”  In other words, sit down and eat a family meal without the distractions of TV, smart phone, computer, or iPod and set an example of healthy, convivial mealtimes. 

Michael Polen is the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a call to eat locally produced foods wherever possible that was a bestseller when it came out in 2006.  His new book is called Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation and he is on the book circuit to promote it.  His conversation with Gomeshi touched on many aspects of our food culture, but centred on the question of “who’s doing the cooking?”  When we eat food produced by corporations, whether it’s prepackaged pizza or canned soup or frozen dinners, we are eating food made from cheap, industrially produced ingredients that include large amounts of salt (to make the crappy ingredients taste better), sugar, fat, and chemicals that make it last a long, long time so it can be shipped from afar and sit on a shelf until purchased.  When you eat industrial food, Polen pointed out, you are supporting industrial agriculture.

When Gomeshi mentioned our current fascination with star chefs and televised cooking programmes, Polen explained what he calls the cooking paradox: “We're spending more time watching other people cook food on television than we are cooking ourselves.  I think on some level we understand how important cooking is and we miss it in our lives.”

The Slow Food Movement is all about good, healthy, local ingredients prepared at home by people who care about what they eat, and consumed in a convivial, social setting.  Dr. Persaud and Michael Polen seem to be on exactly the same page. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

June: "Local" Food

Our government has now revised the official definition of local food to include any food produced in Ontario.  This change was driven by restaurateurs and others who found the 50 km definition too restrictive.  A Toronto cheese store could not list Upper Canada Cheese (made here in Jordan Station) as local, nor could a butcher in London say that organic chicken from Fenwood Farm near Ancaster was a local product.  The problem was especially difficult for farmers’ markets where farmers from further than 50 km. could not participate as a “local” producer.   In an age of quick and easy transportation, these restrictions may seem excessive and the media certainly featured many examples of food producers who were negatively affected.

We here in Niagara are perhaps less affected by such a restriction than other less fortunate spots.  Our market gardens produce a seasonal abundance, which can be found at any of the many farmers’ markets in our towns.  Fruit?  Of course.  Niagara is famous for the quality of our peaches and apples, pears, apricots, cherries, and grapes.  As one of the few locations in Canada that has a climate where tender fruit production is possible, we benefit not only from the delicious fruit that is available for our tables, but from the spectacular orchards and vineyards that are the backdrop of our region. 

As for drink, no one in Niagara has to travel 50 km. to get local wine, and the wine on offer is as good as anywhere in the world.  We even have two distilleries that most Niagara residents can get to in less than 50 km. for those who favour whisky, and my tippling contacts tell me that the quality of the rye whisky produced at both Forty Creek in Grimsby and Dillan’s in Beamsville, is world class.  Even local craft beer is available to us at Niagara College’s teaching brewery.  If you have not tried their small batch specialty beers, available only at the college and only in tiny quantities, you are missing a treat.  And two craft breweries have sprung up nearby along Niagara Stone Road:  Silversmith and Oast House… both producing delicious beer that makes them delightful additions to the wine tour.

Our artisans make excellent cheese, outstanding charcuterie, unique breads, and much, much more.  We are a region where “local” is hardly a restriction at all.  Of course, olive oil and citrus fruit are still out of reach (until global warming really gets rolling) so we will always have to go beyond our provincial borders for some of the things that make our meals enjoyable, but for those of us in Niagara, the semantics of local food are not awfully relevant. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May: Kitchen renovations

We are in the throes of kitchen renovations.  The living room is full of cardboard boxes that contain our kitchen “stuff,” piled high and covered with dusty plastic.  All the other rooms have refugee plants and furniture crowded in, and no matter how careful we or the workmen are, everything is coated with fine white plaster dust.  The dog is a nervous wreck.  Among all this chaos, we have almost completely lost sight of the gorgeous kitchen that we envisaged when we were in the planning stages about five months ago… and we have at least a month to go before we move into the result.
However, we have to cling to the promise of a wonderful new space for our cooking and entertaining or we’ll lose our minds.  It will be a wonderful new space… it will be a wonderful new space… it will….  Among the things we look forward to in our wonderful new space is a new cook top. 
I have always wanted a gas cook top for its instant heat and easy adjustment; it just seems like a more pleasing and efficient cook surface than electric elements for someone who is serious about good cooking.  Then, I was having a coffee with Michael and Anna Olson in their spectacular kitchen at their home in Welland and noticed the cook top was not gas; in fact, it looked like that electrical element under a glass ceramic surface that I find both difficult and inefficient.  I was shocked.  However, Michael reassured me that the stove top was induction, and his enthusiasm for the thing was infectious.
Induction works by producing a magnetic field that “induces” an electric current in the pot, creating heat from the pot’s resistance.  This means that only steel pots can be used on an induction stove top, but the effect is impressive.  We watched a demonstration where a large pot was filled with ice cubes and put on the induction “burner”; within seconds the ice cubes had liquefied and the water was boiling.  Further, the pot was removed from the “burner” and a paper towel put down on the cooking surface and the pot returned, on top of the towel.  The water continued to boil, and the paper towel wasn’t so much as singed.  As neat as this trick is, the real value of induction heat is that it is infinitely regulate-able, just like gas, but has none of gas’s odours or residue… and it is much faster and more fuel efficient. 
I haven’t entirely given up on gas cooking; I think the flame up the sides of a wok makes for a better heat in that application, and we have a small collection of ceramic cookware that wouldn’t work on the induction surface, so we are getting two induction burners and two gas burners side by side.  That’s certainly something to look forward to.
Then there’s the soapstone counter top, a smooth, warm-feeling stone without the glossy shine of granite or quartz.  And the combination microwave-toaster oven called a “speed oven” that I look forward to experimenting with… though I must admit, with some trepidation.
By mid-summer we’ll have mostly forgotten the trauma and disruption of the renovations, the meals in the basement, the dust and noise, the invasion of workmen in and out every day, and the ongoing detail decisions that keep cropping up.  Maybe our dog will have forgotten and forgiven, too, as unlikely as that seems right now.  Anyway, by then we’ll be able to comfort ourselves by cooking some lovely slow food meals in our wonderful new surroundings.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April: Our March Meeting

Slow Food Pelham is a small Convivium that has attracted a widely diverse group of food lovers from across the Niagara Region.  We are teachers and civil servants, retailers and marketers, independent business people and artists, retired and employed.  What draws us together is a love of good food and a concern about the increasing pressure to consume bad food… whether from fast food chains, agri-business conglomerates, or manufacturers that push over-processed junk food at us.  But mostly, we just enjoy each other’s company and sharing the food that we make.

Our “meetings” are pretty informal affairs.  We gather at someone’s home, each bringing our contribution to the evening’s main event: a pot-luck tasting menu around a theme.  The food is spread on a table or kept warm in the oven and we gather for a brief meeting before tucking in. 

At our most recent meeting, our food theme was “favorite comfort food,” which was appropriate for a cool evening right at the beginning of March.  We had coq au vin, chili (two varieties), pork hocks, tapenade, pulled pork , tourtiére, date squares, pie, sinfully rich chocolate cupcakes, and much more.  As usual, we shared the cost of a local wine to wash it all down.  One of our members, Dennis, had recently been to the South of France where he discovered a gourmet olive oil producer, and brought back three bottles of this special oil for us to taste.  Each bottle was from a different olive, and the difference between them was remarkable.  We were given the opportunity to take advantage of Dennis’s contact in Nice to order bottles for ourselves.
As for the “meeting” part of the meeting, we discussed events that we’d like to plan for the year.  Our late summer lamb roast at Featherstone Winery is our signature event and has a permanent place on our calendar.  We enjoy special dinners at restaurants throughout the region that are “Slow Food friendly” and discussed where our next such event might take place.  The Good Earth Bistro received unanimous approval, and they have by now been approached for a special dinner for our members and guests scheduled for May 15.

An issue that generated a great deal of concern was the desire by Slow Food that we turn over a portion of any fundraising money to the central office.  They suggested $16 per person in the Convivium as a target.  Pelham Slow Food has never been in the fundraising game; our lamb roast and special dinners cover costs and little more, and that’s the way we like it.  Members’ reactions ranged from annoyance to outrage at this suggestion, as the membership fee for Slow Food is already high.  This discussion will be ongoing.

Having calmed down and eased our blood pressure with a sip of red wine, we returned to more pleasant topics, and feted Renée Girard, our founding president and the force behind our group for five years.  New president, Valerie Grabove acknowledged that she had large shoes to fill. 

And then it was over to the food and the real reason we assemble from time to time… delicious home-cooked meals made with local ingredients where possible, served in the most convivial surroundings with interesting conversation and good cheer.

Friday, March 1, 2013

March: Longevity

There’s a very old joke that if you eat right, drink in moderation, exercise daily, avoid stress, and quit smoking, you will either live to be a hundred, or feel like you have.  A recent program on CBC’s Ideas series alerted me to research that, for good or ill, suggests that all the factors in this joke are, indeed, supportive of longevity.  Not really a surprise, but what is interesting is the extent to which research is providing concrete, achievable guidelines to a long, productive life.  Also interesting is the fact that virtually all of the guidelines are already long-held principles of the Slow Food Movement.
Most of the research on this subject seems to come from Dan Buettner, a National Geographic writer who has just released the second edition of his book Blue Zones: Lessons for living longer from people who’ve lived the longest.  Buettner and other researchers have discovered five “Blue Zones,” each culturally, genetically, and socially different from the others, but sharing the characteristic of amazingly long-lived residents.  Sardinias’ Nuoro province, for example, has the highest concentration of male centenarians anywhere… and they live active, productive lives.  Ikaria, Greece has the greatest population of people who live to be over 90 of anywhere else on earth; their rate of heart disease is less than 50 per cent that of the rest of the planet, and they suffer from almost no dementia.  Other “Blue Zones” are Okinawa, Japan (highest average age of a population), the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, California, a centre for Seventh Day Adventists.
               Of course, genetics play a part, but studies by some scientists that tried to isolate the influence of heredity on long life, found that it played a much less important role than previously thought.  The common factors among all these diverse cultures were mostly predictable: daily exercise; a low-stress environment, almost always rural; meat as a condiment, not a feature of the meal; a glass or two of red wine daily; a close and engaged family and community.
               While this bare-bones summary does not do justice to Buettner’s work, and I highly recommend his book for its fascinating examination of these happily long-lived folks as much as for its conclusions, we can clearly see in broad strokes what it takes to live healthy and maybe even long lives.  The Slow Food Movement has always advocated good, clean, well prepared food, eaten in a convivial setting with friends and family.  While the movement has never claimed to be a path to longevity, it does claim that healthy eating produces healthy lives; that longevity is a by-product should be no surprise.
               There’s one other notable observation in the research into Blue Zones:  the rural areas where most of these long-lived people reside are coming increasingly urbanized.  The good news is that access to nearby modern medical facilities has actually had a positive influence on their longevity.  The bad news is that even with the availability of health care, the length of life these people can expect has begun to decline.  The culprits, of course, are the availability of supermarket foods and the encroachment of fast food outlets, along with increased stress of traffic and a general erosion of the rural, family-oriented social framework.
To learn more about Pelham Slow Food (your path to a longer life?) contact Valerie Grabove at

Thursday, January 31, 2013

February: Pulled Pork

Winter calls for comfort food.  The cold weather and snow on the ground make cocooning in a warm house seem like a terribly good idea, and a warm house full of delicious smells makes the good idea even better.  Comfort food has as many definitions and interpretations as there are comfort food eaters, but generally, it’s a dish that is savoury, heavy, filling, and warming.  Usually, it’s a dish that evokes nostalgia for dinners past, and usually it’s a dish that is easy to prepare and cooked slowly, filling the house with mouth-watering aromas as it cooks.  While many dishes fill that bill for me, a pot roast is probably first on the list, with rich stews, home-made pork and beans, and roast chicken high on the charts.  In a column back in February 2009, I wrote about another great comfort food that has become a special favorite:  the bean, pork, and duck dish from the south of France, cassoulet. 
But another relatively recent discovery certainly fills the comfort food bill in every way:  pulled pork.  There are many versions of this delicious concoction, most coming from the Southern US, where pork shoulder is cooked using a smoker until it falls off the bone.  Variations show up in Mexican cooking, and even the Italian dish, porcetta is similar.
 My friend Albert Cipryk introduced me to pulled pork a few years ago.  He described it as a way to empty the fridge of old, partly used jars of condiments and sauces which were all thrown together into a slow cooker along with a large pork shoulder roast and left to cook until the meat falls apart.  Of course, each version of the dish was different, depending on what he found in his fridge, but a favorite discovery was the flavour added to the resulting dish when he added a partly used jar of molé, a chocolate based sauce used in Mexican cooking.
I’m not as daring as Albert and I tend to plan my pulled pork a little more carefully, relying on more traditional ingredients for the liquid base of the dish.  Once the meat has been slow-cooked until it falls apart, the pork is “pulled” by using two forks to shred it into a savoury mush.  This gooey mess is served over fresh buns, much like a sloppy joe, and eaten with the use of lots of napkins.  There is no standard recipe, and just about any favorite BBQ sauce can be used.  My favorite is the Maple Ancho Sauce from White Meadow Farms, which imparts a sweet, smoky flavour to the pulled pork.  But, as Albert proved, just about any combination can make a delicious sauce for the meat.
Pulled Pork
4 lb. pork shoulder or butt roast
2 onions chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
1 ½ Cups of BBQ sauce (White Meadows Maple Ancho)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp chili powder
½ Cup of cider vinegar
Brown sugar to taste
Put everything into a slow cooker and cook on low for around 10 hours, or until the pork falls apart easily when pulled with a fork.  Shred the meat into the sauce and stir until it is a consistent mess.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve over fresh hamburger buns.  Cole slaw makes a good side dish.




Tuesday, January 1, 2013

January: A Short History of Pelham Slow Food

It has been five years now since the inaugural meeting of Pelham Slow Food.  The Convivium was formed under the enthusiastic and determined leadership of Renée Girard when the initial group of five fans of fair, clean, good food met at de la terre bakery and café on South Pelham St. in Fonthill.  I first met Renée shortly after that initial meeting, at a tasting of Spanish ham and cheese at Niagara College when she was introduced by one of the chef professors as the president of the Pelham Slow Food group.  Like most people who first encounter Slow Food, I thought it was devoted to taking your time while cooking… a concept I was entirely in favour of, so I introduced myself.
Since then, I have learned that Slow Food is not about cooking slowly, but rather a reaction against everything that “fast food” stands for: food that is cleanly produced, fairly paid for, wholesome, and served in pleasant, convivial surroundings… and, yes, you probably should take your time when cooking it.  Organized into “Convivia,” the movement is now represented in more than 150 countries and has the support of more than 100,000 members.
Renée’s idea for the Pelham Convivium was to bring together a few people who support the principles of the movement for events that nourished their ideas about food, and, not incidentally, provided delicious nourishment as well in the form of potluck suppers.  In addition, we supported the principles of the movement by buying suitable books for the Pelham library, helping a Cuban Convivium with a cash donation, and working with a group home to teach disadvantaged young people the joys of gardening.  Wherever possible, we promoted the ideals of Slow Food in the community and beyond… an effort that resulted in the first “Snail’s Space” column in the Voice of Pelham, a string of columns that in December reached 60.
The potluck dinners in members’ homes, arranged thematically to celebrate the cuisine of a different nation each meeting, have become much anticipated quarterly events.  At least once a year, we also venture out to a Niagara restaurant for a specially prepared Slow Food dinner and enjoy the personal commentary and enthusiasm of the chef in each instance.  Ryan Shapiro at About Thyme in Vineland let us in on his “sous-vide” method of making delicious duck confit; Michael Olson of Benchmark at Niagara College set out a magnificent homestyle feast; David Watt of Zest provided his trademark mouthwatering creations , and most recently, John Cercone put on a feast at Da Vinci of Fenwick that celebrated the cuisine of his ancestral region of Abruzzi in eastern Italy.  We have enjoyed learning to make cassoulet (and stuffing ourselves with it), sampling the wines of Southbrook, le Clos Jordanne, Alvento, Stratus, and Lailey Vineyards at special tastings, and welcoming friends from across the region to our annual Featherstone lamb roast with our good friends David and Louise at Featherstone Winery.
Through the last five years, Renée has guided the group with enthusiasm and creativity.  A former restaurateur and food stylist, she is now a fulltime student at Brock, having returned to university to pursue her lifelong love of learning… especially about other cultures and, of course, food. Renée is stepping aside as President of our Convivium but remaining an active member, while Valerie Grabove takes over the reins.  She deserves enormous credit for having the vision to found a Slow Food group in Pelham, the determination to see it grow and expand, and the creativity to organize events that stimulated, educated, and satisfied on many levels.
For more information about Pelham Slow Food, contact Valerie at