Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Infographics: Thanksgiving 2011

Courtesy of: CreditDonkey

  I would like to take this time  to wish all my American readers a very  happy thanksgiving and I’ve included an info graph at the top of this post detailing a variety of factoids about today’s celebration in the States. Of course, I celebrated Canadian thanksgiving about six weeks ago but considering the colder weather, my readers should understand the reason for the earlier date not to mention that the origins of the autumn statutory holiday are different in this country. This doesn’t mean that Canadians don’t take advantage of the American holiday and many (approx. 13%) hike down south to enjoy the Black Friday bargains in the discount malls especially with the currencies at relative par value. A lot of stores in Toronto offer bargains this week to forestall the annual trek to the fleshpots of Buffalo, New York and the locals braving the attentions of the Home Land Security forces including a new $5.50 "Land of the Free" entrance fee commence the “Assault from the North” in a consumer blitzkrieg on the Empire State where Torontonians shop with all the rapacity of Vikings pillaging coastal towns in the Middle Ages during a North American version of the Norwegian harrytur on Maundy Thursday in which the folks in Norway have an annual trek to the shopping malls in Sweden where towns like Strömstad have huge sales of alcohol and tobacco which is much more expensive in Norway.
midsummer - viking group 1

Canadians preparing a raid on Buffalo discount mall
(lic. from flickr 2.0)

  This celebration in Canada actually predates the American one by 43 years.

The history of Thanksgiving in Canada can be traced back to the 1578 voyage of Martin Frobisher from England in search of the Northwest Passage. In this, his third, voyage to the Frobisher Bay area of Baffin Island in the present Canadian Territory of Nunavut, it was also the intention to start a small settlement and his fleet of 15 ships was so fitted out with men, materials and provisions for this purpose. However, the loss of one of his ships through contact with ice along with much of the building material was to prevent him from doing so. The expedition was plagued by ice and freak storms which at times had scattered the fleet and on meeting together again at their anchorage in Frobisher Bay, “..Mayster Wolfall, [ Robert Wolfall ] a learned man, appoynted by hir Majesties Councell to be theyr minister and preacher, made unto them a godly sermon, exhorting them especially to be thankefull to God for theyr strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places,…” . They celebrated Communion and “The celebration of divine mystery was the first signe, scale, and confirmation of Christes name, death and passion ever known in all these quarters.”  After the Seven Years' War ended in 1763 handing over of New France to the British, the citizens of Halifax held a special day of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving days were observed beginning in 1799 but did not occur every year.  After the American Revolution, American refugees who remained loyal to Great Britain moved from the newly independent United States and came to Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada. .” (Wikipedia)
   The present day celebration was actually an American import and in the pictures above/below you can see one of the Quaker meeting houses that operate today in the area of rural Ontario where I lived for ten years. They left the States after the American Revolution and emmigrated to Ontario because of their pacifism during the war. They brought their Thanksgiving celebration with them. The current date of Canadian Thanksgiving wasn’t set until 1957.

   The food for my thanksgiving was purchased at the Saint Lawrence Market with the exception of the cranberries. We bought free range turkey from White House Meats and organic heirloom vegetables from a variety of other stalls in the hall. For the cranberries, I go in the fall to Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh during the Bala Falls Cranberry festival.

   Bala is about two hours drive north of Toronto, next to an Indian reservation and in what we call the bush.

The "bush" on the trip to Bala - water, trees and rocks
View Larger Map

South Bala Falls in Canada

Festival sign

  I used my cell phone camera for these pictures so the quality isn’t as good as my usual photos.
Two of my daughters on trip near Bala

Taken from the side of the road near the village of Bala
Located at the west end of Lake Muskoka, at the foot of Bala Bay, the prominent geographical feature of the town are the many bare outcroppings of the Canadian Shield. Carved out of the Shield is Bala Falls, the only outlet for Lake Muskoka. This allows water to drain from the Muskoka River watershed into the Moon River and eventually Georgian Bay. (wikipedia)
Not alone. Near Bala

  Wahta Mohawk Territory is a Mohawk First Nation reserve which borders on Bala and has the largest cranberry marsh operation in Canada.
Bala Anglican church

Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books, visited Bala in 1922. The area made a sufficient impression on her that she based the novel The Blue Castle on the area, her only novel not located in PEI. Based on this connection to a beloved Canadian author, Bala's Museum, a privately run museum featuring L.M. Montgomery, was opened in the 1990s.(wikipedia)

Bala South Falls. Good trout fishing from bridge

My youngest daughter having cranberry cider

Transportation from the village to the marsh
It takes about twenty minutes for the journey from the village to the marsh using the tractor.
Wild cranberries
   A video below on the commercial collection of the cranberries at the marsh.

A sea of red cranberries in the background

  If you wonder how cranberries are pollinated then the answer is honeybees. It takes about three weeks for the bees to cross pollinate 160 acres of cranberries and using domestic bees increases the yield by seventy five percent. The marsh owners pay professional beekeepers to keep hives near the marsh. I don’t know if I mentioned that Bala is in bear country so the beekeepers have to place an electrical fence around the hives to stop the bears from eating the honey. The video below will explain.

  You can collect wild cranberries on your own but this is bear country and like Sara Palin carry a 12ga semi auto shotgun with buck hammer slugs. I guarantee that if you plug Yogi with one of the suckers in the picture below he ain’t getting up again. You also get the prime ingredient for my famous Bear burgers or more upscale Terrine d’Ours. If you spot deer and nail Bambi then you have all of the primary ingredients for a more generic Terrine  de la forêt.
   There are more uses for cranberries than sauce. You can make cranberry wine, jelly, cider and relish.

   Here’s a video on making cranberry sauce which requires 1 bag or 3 C. Cranberries

¾ C. packed light brown sugar

½ C. orange juice

½ C. Port wine (red wine works also)

Juice of ½ lemon

 And here's the finished product in a picture of my Thanksgiving dinner plate.

  Bon Appétit

 For those fellow Canadians who spent Thanksgiving in America, here's a little humour.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Winter Magic

Dundas and Yonge intersection in Toronto

  Last Saturday, I went to the Winter Magic festival on Elm Street in downtown Toronto. The festival which celebrates the beginning of winter features food tastings from the local restaurants, ice carving, music, live entertainment and, of course, the famous winter magic ice bar that as the name implies is a bar made from solid ice. It began at 4 pm and continued until 10pm. The 360 photo above was taken at the corner of Dundas Street and Yonge Street which is one block south of elm street and is the closest 360 picture to Elm street that I could find. Although the area is built up as you can see from the picture, Elm Street has maintained its 19th century streetscape through some miracle of preservation and is an authentic backdrop to the faux Victorian ambience of the festival.

View Larger Map

   The video below gives you a reasonable impression of the festival which also has the title of ‘Ice, Wine and Dine.

  Barberian's Steakhouse has been open since 1959 and I`ve been an infrequent customer since I was young when Toronto had very few dining options in the days of the Sunday Blue Laws and the downtown was practically empty on the weekends or on nights. The city in those days was full of Irish Presbyterians who believed that sex might lead to dancing and was referred to as Belfast North by Ernest Hemingway during his tenure as columnist at the Toronto Star.

From the restaurant`s website:
Barberian's is host to numerous treasures that celebrate the skill and diversity of Canadian artists. There are excellent examples of works by the Group of Seven and their best-known contemporaries. It was the Group of Seven who established the bold, distinct style that characterized a new and truly Canadian landscape art in the first decades of the 20th century. Ontario scenes are predominant in our collection with works by A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, Franz Johnston, A.J. Casson and many others, however all areas of Canada are represented. From "Mile 100", Haines Road, Yukon by Collier to a rare oil depicting "Peggy's Cove" by Nicholas Hornyansky. Among the artifacts and antiques are one of the original clocks made in Canada, a long case by I. Twiss, authentic coal oil lamps, Inuit carvings, pre-Confederation money including coins and currency issued by the Hudson's Bay Company and an extensive collection of firearms. These firearms include rifles used by the Hudson's Bay Company for the fur trade and guns used by both sides during the Riel rebellion and the War of 1812.

   I bought the pulled pork sandwich for $5 and it was really good - little spicy but not too much. A reasonable portion as well.

  Above and below are some examples of the 19th century streetscape on Elm Street which escaped most of the downtown renovation during the last hundred years. The building at the top is the home of the Arts and Letters club which was founded in 1908 for the encouragement of Literature, Architecture, Music, Painting and the Theatre arts. Some famous members of the club were the Group of Seven painters, the composers Ernest MacMillan and Healey Willan, and the Nobel prize winners Frederick Banting (Insulin discoverer) and John MacLeod. On Saturday, they were serving hot chocolate and having an art exhibit for some of their current members. Unfortunately I have run out of space for paintings in my home so I am cautious about purchasing more art.

  Another iconic building on Elm Street. Private club I believe.

   The opposite of the hot seat below and carved earlier in the evening. Young lovers would take turns sitting in it and photograph each other warmed by their passion in the dying autumn light.

Ice Sculpture
“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.  - Ernest Hemingway from A Moveable Feast

Christmas carollers preparing to sing

   Sometimes I felt like I was in a Federico Fellini movie where fantasy and reality intermingle in a strange juxtaposition of images.

  The Ice Martini Lounge had a number of drinks of which most contained Vodka.
Ice Bar

   Some of the other restaurants which served food on the street were the Wolf & Firkin Pub (Bowl of chicken curry or 1/2 pound of wings), The Queen & Beaver Public House (Hot mulled apple cider & simnel cake), Duke of Somerset Pub (Mini-pulled pork sandwich  and Deep-fried mars bar), Oro restaurant (Sous vide venison loin with cauliflower puree, grainy mustard spaetzle, juniper jus, brussel sprouts, house cured bacon ) and the Donatello Restaurant( Eggplant roll with prosciutto and cheese or Tortellini in a rose sauce).

Friday, 11 November 2011

McRib is back!

The view from England
     I`ve been following the discussion on Clarissa`s blog for the past few days about why twenty five percent of all Americans and over 30 % in some states are obese according to international statistics.  This shouldn`t be surprising for a country that gave the world Spam (precooked meat product), Reddi Whip (vegetable oil masquerading as whipped cream) and Velveeta cheese slices (Pasteurized processed cheese product with 13 ingredients). According to some newspapers such as the Guardian newspaper in England which posted the photo at the top in an article on obesity if they stopped stuffing their faces with freedom fries and read books like “French women don’t get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano, a French citizen who moved to the States in the wealthy Boston suburb of Weston as a student for a year and put on 15 lbs before she returned home and regained her gamine form, things would change. Unfortunately Yankee ingenuity is still at work and on November 14th, 2011 McDonald reintroduced the McRib to their chain of fast food restaurants across America with the ad displayed below. If you read the list of ingredients on their website, it sounds pretty innocuous - McRib Pork Patty, McRib Bun, McRib Sauce, Pickle Slices, Slivered Onions but the item contains 70 ingredients including 980 mg of Sodium (more than you need in a day!), 29 gm of fat and other industrial chemicals such as azodicarbonamide, ammonium sulfate and polysorbate 80 according to an article in Time Magazine which also stated:
Azodicarbonamide, a flour-bleaching agent that is most commonly used in the manufacture of foamed plastics like in gym mats and the soles of shoes, is found in the McRib bun. The compound is banned in Europe and Australia as a food additive. (England's Health and Safety Executive classified it as a "respiratory sensitizer" that potentially contributes to asthma through occupational exposure.)
And the meat in the McRib according to another post is:
Pig innards and plenty of salt. Typically, "restructured meat product" includes pig bits like tripe, heart, and scalded stomach, says Whet Moser at Chicago Magazine, citing a 1995 article by Robert Mandigo, a professor at the University of Nebraska. These parts are cooked and blended with salt and water to extract salt-soluble proteins, which act as”glue" that helps bind the reshaped meat together.

   Mireille Guiliano had a similar experience to Clarissa and wrote in the introduction to her book, "French Women Don`t Get Fat", the following:
My father brought my brother with him to Le Havre to collect me. I was traveling on the SS Rotterdam. … Since he had not seen me for a whole year, I expected my father, who always wore his heart on his face, would embarrass me, bounding up the gangway for the first hug and kiss. But when I spied the diminutive French man in his familiar beret – yes, a beret – he looked stunned. As I approached, now a little hesitantly, he just stared at me, and as we came near, after a few seconds that seemed endless, there in front of my brother and my American shipmate, all he could manage to  say to his cherished little girl come home was, ``Tu ressembles a` un sac de potates.``
    So the puzzle is how different the food in Canada with the green area representing the low end of the obesity spectrum is from the food in the States with the high end of the spectrum in red as represented in the map above. Certainly the McRib is quite different from the food at the Saint Lawrence Market about which I posted lately on my blog. Last night, Michael Moore said on a panel discussion about the Occupy movement at a school in New York that he ate his first tomato last year and he is in his forties.

   Quebec certainly has the food thing figured out and try finding an overweight person at Place Alexis-Nihon or Carrefour Angrignon in Montréal. This is in spite of the Québécois predilection for Poutine and Queues de Castor which aren’t the most thinning items but the foods are certainly less loaded up with industrial strength additives and the food laws are definitely more stringent.

Chip butty  licenced from flickr

   This is a truncated version of a long thread on Clarisse’s post which tended to have comments that diverged from the initial discussion points. It's interesting that England, the source of the photo at the top of the post, doesn't always have the best food and anyone who has had a chip butty or bangers with mash knows what I'm taking about. The British Rail sandwich has been a butt of jokes for years and an article in the Daily Telegraph spoke about it:
The inner secrets of one of the nation's most reviled culinary creations - the infamous British Rail sandwich - were exposed yesterday.
A 30-year-old document unearthed from a collection of discarded BR papers shows how staff were expected to be meticulous about making the finished product suitably unappetising.
First, a trick: stack the filling on the middle of the lower slice of bread, so that when cut in two it would appear fulsome and vaguely attractive.
Second, a tip. When dealing with luncheon meat or sardines, the filling should amount to two-thirds of an ounce. In the case of cheese the quantity was to be increased to three quarters of an ounce, while gherkins were limited - probably quite sensibly - to a quarter of an ounce.
Ham sandwich at the Railway Bell, Hampton, London TW12
British Rail Sandwich     licenced from flickr

ADDENDUM: November 17, 2011

In spite of Obama Administration’s efforts in general and Michelle Obama efforts in particular to provide more health school lunches to poor children by updating and raising nutritional guidelines for federally funded programs, today Congress passed a bill bowing to the fast food lobby which acknowledged that pizza would be considered a vegetable for nutritional guidelines with respect to school lunch food as well as no reduction in salt levels. We can look forward to another generation of unhealthy Americans with widespread diabetes and heart disease. The particulars as outlined in an article in the Daily Mail were:

Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on French fries, which some schools serve daily.

Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The department had attempted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable — too much to put on a pizza. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.

 Require further study on long-term sodium reduction requirements set forth by the USDA guidelines.

Require USDA to define 'whole grains' before they regulate them. The rules would require schools to use more whole grains. Food companies who have fought the USDA standards say they were too strict and neglected the nutrients that potatoes, other starchy vegetables and tomato paste do offer.
'This agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,' said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute.

The following video from last night shows Jamie Oliver's reaction to the events which I just described.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Saint Lawrence Farmers Market

    Saint Lawrence Market is Toronto`s largest farmer’s market and the oldest in the city. The land was originally designated as a market in 1803 and the city’s original City Hall (1845 – 1899) is actually part of the current building at the corner of Jarvis and Front streets in the heart of historic Old Town and south east of the core of downtown. Today there are more than 120 food retailers who sell every kind of meat, fish and bakery goods including organic from most legal animals and fish.

 I like to come here on Saturday and purchase unique, fresh produce that I can`t buy anywhere else in Toronto including my favorite supermarket about which I have already posted. The only problem is that there is almost too much choice.

View Larger Map

  Below is a short video on the market by Bruce Bell, a Toronto historian.

Fresh rare heritage and heirloom carrots.
   Going in the front door in the picture at the top of the post.
Main food hall looking south from the north end.

Buskers in the market

Canadian back bacon

Cheeses from around the world
Freshly made paste in any colour

Oysters on the shell

  Domenic’s Fish Market sells a wide selection of seafood. Live crabs and lobsters are available as well as shellfish, shrimp, tuna, whitefish, halibut, trout, Arctic char, cod and salmon. They specialise in vodka smoked salmon.

Lobster from Alaska

   Di Liso’s speciality is fresh handmade sausages and the best seller is the Barese sausage, stuffed with beef, pork, cheeses, peppers and spices. All the sausages are made on the premises with a sausage machine where you can watch the employees preparing the many varieties. No additives or preservatives are used.

  Of course, if you’re interested in some really exotic food then they’re all here as well. You can see some of them in the photos below.