Monday, December 20, 2010

Pantry Raid!

“The guests are met, the feast is set.
May'st hear the merry din.”

~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The beeswax candles were lit and twinkling, casting shadows and warm, golden light in dark corners.

The veggies were roasting in the oven. Carrots, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes from the garden, local onions, burdock root and potatoes, all seasoned lightly with oil, dill, rosemary, salt and pepper.

The big enamel pot simmered on the back burner filled with spiced, organic apple cider.

On the table the pickled beets and sour dills flashed the colours of the season: red, green, red.

Out came the homemade quince paste, gleaned from a bush growing nearby. It went on the board with mostly local, artisnal cheese.

Into the ice box went the locally made hard cider and white wine. A bottle of red was opened up to breathe.

Two bowls of freshly roasted pumpkin seeds went out into the sitting area. The pumpkin pie roll ups would be set out later for dessert.

The last kernels of homegrown popcorn exploded in the pot and were quickly transferred into a bowl to be buttered and salted, as the first guests arrived.

Greetings and welcomes were exchanged, snow was stamped off and boots removed, coats were taken into the bedroom.

More dishes came with the guests. This was a potluck after all. But not just any potluck. It was a pantry raid to celebrate the season of short days and long nights, when the farmer's fields and backyard gardens lay empty and covered in snow. It was a gathering of people bent on turning modern conventions and accepted practices upside down. At a time of year when it gets harder and harder to eat locally and seasonally if you depend solely on your nearest bigbox, foodmart for sustenance, these guests bravely took up the challenge of bringing a dish with at least one local ingredient. They dug deep into their larders, pulled produce from the freezers, home canned bits of summer captured in jars came off the shelves and stores were plundered in search of the most local ingredients to be found. Soon the table was full to overflowing with the most delicious array of food and two pots of soup were warming up on the stove.

Adding to the snacks were tortilla chips and home canned peach salsa and salsa verde. More tortilla chips came, but these were special. They were homemade and almost all the ingredients were locally sourced. Beets and garden greens were used to add seasonal colour in, you guessed it, red and green. They were an impressive masterpiece and their simplicity belied the care that went into making them.

On the entree list there was a Martinique goat curry- the local, vegan version. It was delicious and enjoyed by all.

The roasted roots were served with a mushroom gravy. Bowls of squash and apple and squash and sweet potato soup made the rounds, served with fresh, crusty bread from a local bakery.

People inhaled the tasty dish of potatoes, leeks and eggs.

Oohs and aahs could be heard above the conversation as the homemade beet and squash ravioli came out served with a white sauce.

The fresh, green salad and chocolate mousse were enjoyed as a luxury and rarity.

People tucked into in the food in earnest, going back for seconds and thirds. This was a celebration of abundance and richness, a reward for hard work and a relishing of harvests. Plates were balanced on knees. Stories were told in between bites. The laughter was loud and long. The food kept coming.

Suddenly the desserts appeared. There was the green tomato cake that everyone fell in love with, an unbelievably good ice cream made with fresh cream from a cow share, flavoured with acorn squash and finally the dessert that made us all feel like kids again, apple cider toffee drizzled over snow.

Slowly people relaxed into full belly postures, sated on food, but not yet on conversation and good cheer. Old friends sat together companionably and new friends were made.

Eventually the first couple got up to leave. Food was packed up and portioned out, and one by one, two by two, coats were returned, feet slipped into boots and the guests were on their way with fare wells and good wishes.

The rest of the food was put away, dishes cleared up and a grateful and happy hostess closed her eyes on the couch while a very Awesome Dude Guy washed up most of the evidence. The flickering candles were gently blown out. The little apartment so recently the scene of such great feasting, was now left in peaceful silence, full yet with lovely memories and a quiet knowing that, more than just a festive gathering of the season, this celebration held a promise for a different way of coming together at the table and sharing food. A way that is rich, varied and abundant, yet gentle and restorative to the land, while nourishing people, and where nothing is wasted and no one goes hungry.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Coniferous Tipples

Hey! Check out Crunchy's post. We're totally surfing the same cosmic brain wave dude!

Plus, her post has lots of boozy recipes. Fun!

Oh and I love idea in the comments to make pine needle vinegar. Must. do. this. ASAP.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The South March Highlands

The South March Highlands from Gord Stephen on Vimeo.

I just sent the following letter to my mayor and city councillors. You can read more about the issue here. And here is another video.

This matter will be brought before council and voted on tomorrow.

If you feel so inclined please copy and send this letter along. Here are the email addresses you need:;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

Dear Mayor Watson,

As a resident of Ottawa, I want you to know that I view the preservation of the South March Highlands to be of the highest priority for this new city council.

I believe that your leadership as mayor and that of our new-elected council can play a critical role in ensuring that every avenue is pursued to protect this unique area.

The fact that the Beaver Pond Forest lands are under such imminent threat of being developed for housing reflects a major failure in planning on the part of this city.

However, it also presents a watershed opportunity for this new council, under your direction, to rally the forces needed to protect this remarkable natural area.

It is unquestionably Ottawa’s most significant natural area and, as such, a substantial but untapped asset to the city of Ottawa. Three times the size of Stanley Park, the South March Highlands is considered by experts to be among the most bio-diverse not just in Ontario but in Canada. And, considering that it lies within the boundaries of the City of Ottawa, the nation’s capital, might just make it unique in the world.

How can we possibly allow it to be lost when other cities across Canada, such as Montreal, are developing international reputations for protecting their biodiversity?

It is imperative that the city find a legitimate way to prevent the impending clearing of the land, and continue to examine every possibility, and explore every avenue to preserve this land, either as city land, or as land held in collaboration with other governmental and non-governmental agencies, for example, as part of an expanded National Capital Greenbelt and/or a land trust arrangement of some kind. Creativity also needs to be applied to raising the necessary funds for the acquisition so that it will not put additional and undue stress on Ottawa taxpayers. Ottawa is a city gifted with multi-talented, educated, and highly motivated residents who should be enlisted to help find a solution to this challenge. This is a unique opportunity to respond to community support to create a new model for Public-to-Public partnership with the community.

This is the eleventh hour for the South March Highlands and once it is gone, it is gone for good. This is this city’s opportunity to act decisively to save this precious, natural gem. Many thousands of residents from across Ottawa have already expressed their concern and desire to see this area saved from development. I now add my voice.

Preserving the South March Highlands might just be the most important natural legacy that you, as mayor, and this city council could leave for future generations of Ottawa residents.

We need your leadership. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

c.c. City Councillors

Monday, December 13, 2010

Drink Your Tree

Further to the below...

'Nother thing you can do with the balsam fir is strain any left over water that you've steeped the needles in, add some more water if you need, and a bit of white vinegar and you've got yourself one fine and lovely scented cleaner. I scrubbed my bathroom with just such a concoction and baking soda this weekend.

My favourite thing about using my own all-natural, homemade cleaners is that I never have to worry about inhaling toxic fumes into my lungs or getting harsh and corrosive chemicals on my skin. I'm not flushing them into our waterways and drinking systems either.

Christmas trees are often balsam firs, 'cause they smell so darn good. However I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be using the needles from those trees for tea or simmering for an air freshener, because most of them are grown with pesticides. If anyone has an organic Christmas tree though, there's no reason why you couldn't repurpose some of it for eating, drinking, air freshening and cleaning! It doesn't even have to be a balsam fir. Fir, spruce, pine and cedar species are all aromatic, medicinal, high in vitamin C and edible (in reasonable amounts- don't overdo it!).

Even if you don't have a real, organic Christmas tree, when you're out and about in the world, take a sniff and nibble of your nearest conifer. If you like the smell and it tastes good, carefully pick a handful of tips to bring home and try!

(Don't forget to practice good wildcrafting ethics.)

Image Source

Friday, December 10, 2010

"When simple advice about lifestyle would suffice."

Ah...relief. The headache that had been plaguing me since early afternoon is gone. Not one to take pharmaceuticals if it can be helped and thinking about the words of wisdom from yesterday's post I quietly slipped away from my desk and into an empty room of the clinic I work in. I found some space against the wall and went into a yoga posture I learned from Michael Stone at a weekend training a couple of years ago. Closing my eyes and turning my attention inward, I took a few long, deep, slow breaths, until I heard the phone ring and returned to my desk. The pain relief was immediate. I could literally feel the discomfort dissipating and the space between my eyebrows relax, my jaw loosen and the tension lift in my neck and shoulders. The difference I felt was so striking that it was accompanied by a feeling of mild euphoria and gratitude. I'm pretty sure Advil can't do that!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On How to Practice Medicine

I love this story Paul Bergner tells in an article in Plant Healer Magazine.

"In medieval Baghdad, the “license” to practice
medicine was given as permission to practice in the
marketplace. Examination was held, not written
examination, but interview, assessment, and direct
observation of practice. One of the rules was that an
individual would be disqualified from the practice
of medicine if they were observed to 'use a strong
herb when a mild herb would suffice, use an herb
when a food would suffice, or use a food when
simple advice about lifestyle would suffice.'"

Image Source


Ugh. Sorry for so much changy changy on the blog. I really wanted to have a winter nature themed background, but it turns out I just couldn't live with it. It was way too busy and difficult to read, so I'm switching to something simpler and cleaner. It's not wintry, but I like the birds up there in the corner. I like to pretend they are my crows. Yes, the ones that roost near me are now *my* crows.

Anyway, I'll stick with this design for a while I think, and change it again in the spring.

My apologies to your eyeballs.

Oh, and I'm also turning the comment moderation on for a bit, since I've been reciveing some spam lately.

If it is goes away, I'll turn the moderation off again.

That is all. Thank you.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Abies balsamifera

Forget nasty, toxic air fresheners. At this time of year I pick a handful of tips from the balsam fir tree and place them in a pot with some water that goes over the element on the stove that vents the oven. The heat from whatever I'm roasting in the oven simmers the water and releases the heavenly aroma of the fir, and adds a little humidity to the dry winter air. (Careful. The resins tend to build up on whatever pot you're using and are hard to wash off.)

The needles also make a nice tea and have medicinal uses as well.

I think the balsam fir may be my favourite of all the conifers.

From the apothecary...

"Let thy kitchen be thy apothecary;
and, Let foods be your medicine.

"People ascribe the greatest healing power to drugs that have come from farthest away, drugs that cost the most. In my long experience I have come to believe that people go to the ends of the Earth to look for something they could find right on their doorstep. If only we could learn to trust Nature"
~French herbalist Maurice Mességué

Friday, December 3, 2010

She Speaks for the Trees

Some you may already know how much I heart Diana Beresford-Kroeger, so it's no surprise that I'm thrilled to hear about her upcoming talk this Sunday in Ottawa, for the Canadian Organic Growers.

Details here.

Image by Mark Ryden, for the book Speak for the Trees.