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Hopes for 2013

I hope everyone had a safe and lovely holiday season! We had a great time, and I was finally able to take a breather from what has been a tremendous flurry of craziness at work.

The next step after New Year’s – resolutions – represents a chance for everyone to voice what they hope will come to pass this year: lose some weight, save some money, declutter the house, what have you. Rather than doing my typical navel-gazing, I’m turning the resolution thing around for this post and will list what I hope to see happen in the Winnipeg food world in 2013.

Framed.

There’s already been one huge announcement: the owner of Hermano’s announced today that he is in negotiations to reopen the revolving restaurant at Fort Garry Place. Better yet, the restaurant – which will be appropriately called Prairie 360 – will focus on locally-grown, Manitoba-inspired food. I am so thrilled about this, and am sending all the good vibes I can at this venture. They hope to open the new restaurant this fall.

I have a few other things that I’m hoping for this year, as well:

Backyard chickens and bees. First, I would like the city of Winnipeg to come to a sane and progressive decision about allowing residents to keep backyard chickens and bees. To be honest, I think the chicken people are sort of their own worst enemy (really? taking a chicken to a council meeting? That’s step 2 in “how to alienate your audience”…), but I’m hoping that their report is well-received. Having clear suggestions on how to limit the impact of backyard chickens and bees is a great step, and I’m looking forward to seeing how council responds.

More food trucks. Last year, Bartley Kives of the Winnipeg Free Press did a great piece on the state of food trucks and other street eats in Winnipeg. He detailed why there weren’t many (oppressive regulations) and explained what the city was doing to actively discourage them (shutting down stands operated by established eateries). On the other hand, other cities, like Toronto and Vancouver, have been actively encouraging food trucks with festivals and a expansion of licenses issued. We saw some growth this past summer, with new entries like Pimp My Rice, Stuff It and Little Bones. I’d love to see this continue in 2013.

More accessible restaurant inspection reports. This is a topic I’ve been advocating for a while, so I’m not holding my breath on seeing any action on it anytime soon. Basically, I’d like to see a more consumer-friendly way to tell how well your favourite eatery has done on its last inspection. My gold standard is the way Toronto does it: colour-coded cards that must be displayed near the front entrance, showing a green, yellow or red card based on their inspection. (The Toronto site also explains, in plain English, the difference between a minor infraction and a major infraction. Manitoba doesn’t make that clear at all.)

However, the province recently took over the inspections for the city of Winnipeg, and they are now in charge of reporting closures and convictions. They do seem to be keeping up with it a bit better than the city did, but I would also like to see if the diner down the street passed with flying green colours. The ball is in their court on this one, and 2013 would be a great year to make this change.

Those are my big three. There are a few others, but I’m interesting in what you think. What would you like to see this year?

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Get Your Half Pints at the Flatlander’s Beer Festival

I totally admit to not being much of a wine person. Instead, my Midwestern upbringing has made me a beer person. I don’t dislike wine, but when given the choice I prefer malt and hops to grapes. This has led to some interesting encounters; for example, a waiter at Sydney’s once said “Aren’t you cute!” when I asked for a pre-dinner beer instead of a cocktail. Fortunately, the rising popularity of craft brews is allowing us beer people a lot more variety and choice when it comes to our beer.

One of the rising stars on the Canadian craft brew scene, of course, is Winnipeg’s very own Half Pints. They just got some national attention from Jordon St. John when he profiled them for the Sun. As far as I’m concerned, they deserve the positive attention. In his column, he mentioned one of their recent seasonal brews, Noche De Los Alebrijes.

Noche De Los Alebrijes

Noche De Los Alebrijes is a dunkle lager. I am normally not a fan of darker-coloured beers, but this one has really won me over. It has a really rich flavour that manages to not be overwhelming, and fades into an intriguing chocolate aftertaste. I like this beer. I really, really like this beer, and I’m going to be very sad when we’re gone through our hoard and we can’t get anymore. (We went to the Ellice Street MLCC and just about bought them out of stock a few days ago.)

My husband is a fan of the Humulus Ludicrous, a ridiculously bitter IPA that Half Pints put out at the same time as Noche De Los Alebrijes. I’m not a fan of the extreme hoppy taste, but that just leaves more for him.

Half Pints is going to be at the Flatlander’s Beer Festival tonight and tomorrow. They will have Humulus Ludicrous available to sample, along with a cask of a vanilla stout, which I am very interesting in trying.

We went to the beer festival last year and had a fantastic time. (And thank you, Winnipeg Transit, for the ride home.) With your admission you receive five tasting tickets, and you can buy additional tasting tickets at the event.

You also receive a guidebook with space for you to take notes about the beers you’ve tasted. After the event you can peruse your notes, and go to the MLCC to find your favourites from the evening. Last year I added a few more beers to my favourites, including something that I consider a “dessert beer,” St. Louis Kriek. It tastes more like a cherry fruit cooler than a beer, but I can see it taking the same place as an ice wine on a dinner menu.

The Flatlander’s Beer Festival is on September 13-14, from 7:00pm-10:00pm at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Tickets are available at all MLCCs, or from Ticketmaster. See you there!

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What’s Not at Our Farmers’ Markets

We have returned from spending some time in Ohio, visiting family and friends. As part of our trip, we visited a farmers’ market that has popped up in my hometown, right downtown under an overpass bridge next to the river. It’s nicer than it sounds, and even in the morning we were glad for the shade.

The local food movement isn’t confined to Manitoba, fortunately. Wherever you go during the summer, you’re likely to find some kind of market where farmers sell direct to the consumer. (Some of them might not be quite so local, so do your homework before you go.) Ohio and Manitoba are a few zones apart in terms of the things that you can grow. There were lots of similar items, but one of the things that is missing from the Manitoba markets was peaches.

Peaches at the Kent Farmers' Market

Until I moved away, I totally took fresh peaches for granted. The ones we get from Ontario are nice; in fact I found some delicious ones at Safeway last week. But they’re not this fresh. I really miss them. Manitoba excels at blueberries, while Ohio does not, but peaches… Mmm.

Another thing that stood out at the market we visited was dairy. There were at least two goat milk producers at the market. One of them was selling litres of frozen goat milk, and both of them sold various types of goat cheeses, including flavoured fetas. I thought about how wonderful it would be to complete my shopping at the market: fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk… and dairy.

But unless the law changes, that’s unlikely to happen.

There is nothing in the Manitoba guidelines or regulations preventing dairy from being sold. The problem – and here is where my naïveté about economics becomes evident – is the agriculture marketing boards in Canada. They limit who can sell a product, when, to whom, and for how much. For dairy, farmers have to buy quotas – which are limited – in order to produce to sell. This effectively keeps new, smaller producers out of the market, and also removes the possibility of niche producers from jumping in to grab the smaller market share available at a farmers’ market. (And please, if I’m totally out to lunch on this, let me know in the comments.)

I am torn on this issue. I see the benefits of having a mandatory marketing board, but the consumers are really the losers in these cases. I remember the hullabaloo over Peak of the Market’s clamping down on local potato producers. That was eventually resolved, but the thought of having to fight that battle for every type of food stuff is a bit exhausting. This type of marketing board is becoming less and less popular, and I’m sure everyone in Winnipeg knows what the Canadian government did to the Canada Wheat Board.

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For someone who just wants to buy locally-produced food, preferably directly from the producer and without having to travel all over the countryside to get everything I need, this is all a bit depressing. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can, and keep my eyes open for new and exciting food available at our own local markets.

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Manitoba Food Bloggers (minus 1): Get Your Goodies Bake Sale

Tomorrow, May 18th, the Manitoba Food Bloggers will be having a bake sale from 10am to 2pm at Aqua Books to support Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Jamie Oliver is the adorable British celebrity chef who has taken on childhood obesity and food ignorance as his favourite cause. Jamie was the 2010 TED Prize winner; you can watch his prize speech here. May 19, 2012 has been designated Food Revolution Day, on which people are urged to teach people about food, food issues, healthier lifestyles and better nutrition. Funds raised at Food Revolution Day events will go towards food education projects run by the Jamie Oliver Foundation, such as the Food Education Box (you can a check out a sample lesson).

Chocolate Chip Cookies

In addition to the fundraiser, participating bloggers will have their eligible goodies judged as part of the Big Bake Off, sponsored by Manitoba Canola Growers. Fabulous prizes!

So, head on over to Aqua Books (still open in its Garry Street location) on Friday, May 18 to sample some goodies baked by people who know what they’re talking about, and support a good cause at the same time!

(No, I’m not participating in the bake sale. First, I’m not a baker. I have no trouble subjecting my family and even coworkers to my rather mediocre baking, but the thought of offering it up to strangers – for money, no less! – just seems like so much hubris. And secondly, I’m burningly shy around new people, and have yet to make it to any of the Manitoba Food Blogger events that have happened. I’ll go to one eventually, I’m sure, but I just haven’t been able to work up the nerve yet. Meanwhile, I’ll just feign dead over here… after I eat my cookies from the bake sale, of course.)

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We’re Digging In

This summer, Dig In Manitoba, an initiative of Food Matters Manitoba, is showing Manitoba families that eating local can be easy.

The Dig In Challenge dares local families to discover the local food possibilities this summer. Challenge participants pledge to shift at least $10 of their weekly food budget towards, try at least two new Dig In Challenge activities a month, and (optionally) to attend Dig In workshops. Also, workshop participants will be eligible to win prizes!

Three Sisters

Families who already make an effort to eat locally can participate in Dig Deeper. Dig Deeper participants are limited to only 100 families, but as the name suggests, they will delve deeper into the local food scene by growing their own vegetables, participating in seed-starting and seed-saving workshops, and doing more activities each month.

The Dig In Challenge kick-off is this Saturday, April 21, in the Centre Court at The Forks Market, hosted by Janet Stewart. To sign up for the challenge for free, just visit the pledge page on the Dig In Challenge website.

We will be participating in the Dig In Challenge this summer as well! Because our summer is going to be a bit busy we can’t commit to the Dig Deeper Challenge, but I’m happy to be participating even in a small way.

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Fiddleheads and Bacon over Pasta

Mother Nature is a cruel mistress, as any Manitoban can tell you right now. We woke yesterday morning to a very pretty but unseasonable white blanket of snow covering everything in sight. But despite the snow, spring is still happening. Don’t believe me? Check the stores. For a very limited time, you can find fiddlehead ferns at specialty markets and small grocers like Vic’s Fruit Market on Pembina.

Fiddlehead

Fiddleheads are the very young, fresh growth of the ostrich fern. Fiddlehead season is limited to only a few weeks in the spring. Before fiddlehead season, the ferns haven’t popped up yet. After fiddlehead season, the fiddleheads have unfurled and become ferns. They also don’t travel very well, so they’re very much an “eat while available” seasonal food. And they’re harvested from the wild, so they are limited in supply, and can be a bit expensive. They are definitely a briefly available delicacy.

Because fiddleheads can taste very bitter before being cooked, you shouldn’t eat them raw. Instead, blanch them in boiling water for about 4 minutes and then shock them in ice water before using them. But aside from that difference, they can be used in many of the same ways that asparagus is used. Like other foods that are very seasonal and are only available in limited quantities, I prefer giving fiddleheads a simple treatment. This showcases the flavour that we won’t get to experience again for another year.

I have only found fiddleheads here pre-packaged for you. But if you get to select your own, pick out fiddleheads that are still tightly curled and not too big.

Fiddleheads and bacon pasta

For these particular fiddleheads, I made a quick and easy pasta dish. To make it, you will need:

  • 1/2 pound fiddleheads (or at minimum two nice handfuls)
  • 6 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • about 1 lb angel hair pasta

Boil a small pot of water for the fiddleheads, and a larger pot for the pasta. Salt the pasta water. Clean the fiddleheads by removing any brown skins and cutting off the tips of the stems.

Once the small pot is boiling, add the fiddleheads. While the fiddleheads are boiling, prepare an ice water bath. After about four minutes, the fiddleheads should be bright green. Remove them from the boiling water and put them in the ice water bath. Set aside.

Heat a medium frying pan over medium high heat. Add the bacon, and cook until it begins to get crispy. Tilt the pan and carefully spoon out all but one tablespoon of bacon fat.

Add the onions to the frying pan, and lower the heat to medium. Cook until the onion begins to get translucent. Add the garlic and toss well.

Add the wine to the frying pan. Let the sauce reduce. (If you like a richer sauce, add a pat of butter.) Add the red pepper flakes.

Toss the angel hair pasta into the larger pot of boiling water. Cook to al dente according to the package instructions.

Drain the fiddleheads, and rinse with fresh water again. Drain, and add them to the frying pan. Toss well to heat the fiddleheads through.

Serve the fiddlehead mixture over the pasta. If you like, serve topped with a bit of Parmesan cheese. Serves four.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope that everyone is having a great, safe, and delicious Thanksgiving this year! We had our dinner yesterday, so today I have time to relax and tell you all about it!

Pre-dinner.

We decided to invite several friends over this year, and did a (mostly) 100-mile dinner. (“Mostly” because there was a demand for cranberry sauce, so I relented there. Also, the wine was not local, but I have an explanation for that. Most everything else came from the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market, so when I say “the market” in this post, that’s what I mean.

The menu I dreamt up was big. We had a LOT of food, but that way we made sure that no one went home hungry.

Turkey
Our turkey was from Silver Bridge Farm in Landmark, MB. We ordered it back in August so that we would commit to actually doing Thanksgiving. When I put our name down, we specified a “medium” turkey. When we arrived at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market on Saturday to pick up our turkey, they had a sign asking everyone to get as large a turkey as your roaster would fit. Our roaster could hold up to 22lbs, so we ended up with a 21.88lb turkey. I’m not sure how to show scale on this thing, but here it was before it went into the oven:

Turkey

I stuffed it with onions, sage and oregano from the market, and rosemary and parsley from our garden. That’s it. No salt, no brining, no butter under the skin… All I did was roast it upside down, breast down. It was in a 425F oven for 30 minutes, then a 325F oven for another three hours.

Now, all the calculators I’d seen said that a bird this size should take about 5 hours. But after three and a half hours it was done. Like, DONE. We called everyone in a panic and got them here quickly while the turkey rested, covered in foil and towels. When we sliced the bird, the breast meat was incredibly juicy. I am converted: turkeys go into the oven upside down from now on!

Stuffing
I made homemade stuffing. I got wild rice bread from the Bread Lady on Saturday, and chopped it up into cubes to dry overnight. Other than that, it was a basic dressing: celery and onions from the market in lots of butter, broth made from the turkey neck, some sauteed sage from the market, and parsley from the garden. It all went into a buttered casserole dish and was baked, covered, at 400F for about 40 minutes.

Potatoes
There seems to be a problem with local potatoes this year! Despite looking and looking, we could not find sweet potatoes at the market. I also wanted to do my lavender-coloured mashed potatoes just for the colourful interest, but we couldn’t find the blue potatoes either! *sigh* So, I made smashed red potatoes, which worked just fine.

Green Bean Casserole
This dish worried me, since my standard, classic green-bean casserole involves cans of cream of mushroom soup. Well, Alton Brown to the rescue! I made Alton’s from-scratch green-bean casserole with green beans from my garden, onions from the market, and mushrooms from Loveday. It was a huge success, and my husband has already requested that I make it this way from now on.

Veggies
Our veggies were corn from the market that I’d frozen earlier in the summer, and honey-glazed carrots. Both the carrots and the honey were from the market. (I used this super-simple recipe.)

Rolls and Cranberry sauce
The rolls were butterhorns from Mum’s Country Bakery in Landmark. (Incidentally, if you’ve never tried their cinnamon buns, you must!) I got both regular and multigrain, and they were both great.

The cranberry sauce… *sigh* Well, the cranberries were from Safeway. I was going to do a tart raspberry sauce using frozen raspberries from a friend’s garden this summer, but there was pouting and whining. In the interests of peace, I conceded on the sauce. My husband made a nice lemon-scented cranberry sauce with a touch of allspice.

Wine
Now, I could have gotten local wine. Manitoba has some very nice fruit wines that we could have used. But while we were back home visiting my family earlier this year, we picked up a bottle of Pink Catawba from Heineman’s Winery in Put-in-Bay, Ohio. It was a bit sweeter than I like, but everyone else seemed to like it.

Pumpkin Pie
I am blessed with a husband who makes the most amazing pumpkin pie. He starts with a sugar pumpkin, roasts it, purees it, makes the crust, and bakes them all together. Mmm.

Pie

So, that was our dinner! We have an obscene amount of leftovers (including 8lbs of turkey – we weighed it!), so tomorrow I think I’ll be making some turkey pot pies to freeze.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Eggs now available at the St. Norbert Farmers' Market

Ok ok ok ok ok! I’m back! School is over, the requisite trip back home has taken place, job has been secured. I am crossing my fingers that I will have more time for blogging, now that I don’t have homework and other issues hanging over me!

In case it passed your notice, the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market is now open. The market is open every Saturday 8:00am-3:00pm. It will also be open on Canada Day (8:00am-3:00pm), and starting in July it will be open Wednesday afternoons noon – 6:00pm.

Saturday haul.

We’ve gone every weekend that the market has been open so far, and it’s been even better than last year. The produce stands are awash in asparagus and spring greens, and we’re even starting to see carrots and tomatoes. (And of course, Wenkai Liu is back with his wealth of greenhouse-grown Oriental veggies.) Our favourite vendors are back, and there are some new ones.

One of the most exciting additions has been Nature’s Farm eggs from Steinbach. The market was really lacking in two areas: eggs and dairy products. I suspect this is because of the tight grip that marketing boards have on producers, so I am thrilled to see these eggs available directly from the producer. The colour of these eggs is amazing. The chickens are fed with flax, which gives their yolks an amazing orangy-yellow colour. Nature’s Farm also makes a variety of pastas that I’ve written about before.

I’m looking forward to another summer of exploring our local foodshed via the Market. Hopefully, the addition of Nature’s Farm means that there are even more good surprises in store in the years ahead.

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Half Pints' Burly Wine Day

Yesterday morning, even though it was a Saturday, we set our alarms for early and managed to get out of the house before 9am. (Trust me, that’s a miracle for us for Saturdays after the time change. Winter = sleepy.) What rousted us from our warm bed so early? Why, beer!

We visited the Half Pints Brewing Company’s Burly Wine day and open house. The Burly Wine, which has gotten some rave reviews, was available in the 2009 variety, along with a small selection of 2008s and 2008s aged over bourbon chips.

Burly Wine is a barley wine, or a very strong ale. They have rather high alcohol content, and actually improve with age (rather than going “skunky.”)

We managed to get to the brewery on Roseberry a bit after 9:30am and got in line. We snagged four bottles of the 2009, two of the 2008, and six of the 2008 bourbon. We also grabbed a six of Half Pints’ seasonal beer, Sweet Nikki Brown.

Burly Wine

After we secured our goods, we made for the tasting room to sample the beer we’d just purchased. Whew, that stuff is strong! I admit to liking my beers a bit less – uh, robust. For comparison, St. James Pale Ale is right up my alley. But I can see the Burly Wine being more of a sipping beer rather than a drinking beer. This is a beer that you enjoy slowly over the course of an evening… Almost out of necessity. (I admit to being a cheap drunk.) My husband, however, LOVES the Burly Wine, and is already figuring out how to portion out the bottles in order to age them in the most efficient manner.

Then we went on a tour with the Brewmaster for Half Pints, Dave. He called the company a home brew operation that got out of hand, and you can tell in the way he shows people around. He takes pride in every step along the way, and happily answered all of our questions about the brewing process. As my husband put it, “I enjoyed the tour because it was presented in the enthusiastic manner of somebody who obviously loves his craft, showing off his favourite toys.”

I asked if they were planning on doing a lambic anytime soon, since I love lambic beers so much. He said that he would like to do a lambic, but that they were really labour intensive. If they do come up with one, I’d really like to try it!

Anyway, we had fun, and we’ll try to make it back for next year’s Burly Wine day.

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