Healthy-ish

Mock Orange

A neighbour told me today that mock orange only blooms every three years and I should enjoy the fragrant blossoms while I can. It’s not true, but it’s a pretty story and their season is so short that I think I’ll spend as much time lingering near them as I can in the next little while.

Everything, lately, seems especially ephemeral and I’m trying to take as much notice of my surroundings and its inhabitants as I can. That means walking Roxy a little farther than my tiredness would rather, so that she can make the most of a summer’s evening sniff, then talking softly to the skunk we encountered (while rapidly backing away). It means setting up a long-distance telephone visit with a friend, instead of putting it off for a few more weeks. And planting squash in the garden rather than working down the list of tasks waiting for me at my desk.

It also means doing a little baking, which I’ve not had much time for, so that I can drop off a banana blueberry oat loaf for a neighbour who isn’t well.

I think when someone is recovering from an illness or an injury, there is a lot of love and friendship that can be offered through helping with chores and errands, spending time watching a movie or playing a game, and bringing over food so that there’s always a meal at hand. I also believe in the healing power of treats, especially if they’re packing a nutritional punch.

If I had a recipe box, I’d have a section labelled ‘Almost Health Food’ because I think a little indulgence while one’s on the mend can speed a recovery up, or at least make it feel like it’s dragging on a little less. I think a loaf like this is especially good for seniors, because it’s full of nutrients, with some fat and protein along for the ride to keep them going.

It’s also one of those infinitely variable recipes that can accommodate almost anything you’ve got in your pantry. Soak some dried cherries and replace the blueberries, skip the oats and add bran or wheat germ instead, play around with the flours or sweeteners, go for chocolate and coffee instead of fruit.

In this version, I added a little yogurt, because I thought whole wheat flour and rolled oats might be too much for even the moistest of bananas. They came out perfectly.

Banana Blueberry Oat Loaf

BANANA BLUEBERRY OAT LOAVES

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup mashed banana (about 3 medium)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup blueberries, frozen or fresh

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat to 350°. Butter four 5¾” × 3½” × 2¼” mini-loaf pans and set aside. (You can flour or sugar them afterward, but I find these loaves come out of the pan quite easily.)

Toss the blueberries in half a tablespoon of flour.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, making a well in the centre. Then, in a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, then stir in the blueberries.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and then place them in the oven for 35 minutes. (Start checking at 20 minutes.) I like mine to be a slightly toasty brown around the edges, but you might like yours a little less done.

Let the pans rest on baking racks for five minutes, then turn them out, turn them over, and let them cool completely. Once they’re cool, you can wrap a couple well for the freezer, wrap another in brown paper to bring to a friend, and slice into the one you’ve saved for yourself. I find they keep quite well in a parchment-lined cookie tin, if you’re not into sharing, but why wouldn’t you? These are too good to keep to yourself.

Banana Blueberry Oat Loaf

Safely Spring

I think we can safely say it’s spring. The snowdrops are still going strong in my garden, but daffodils, crocuses and even cherry blossoms are appearing here and there, too. More importantly, my rhubarb is starting to get going. It won’t be long before I can start using it and picking up more at the market, because I always need more than I produce.

I’m making a list of new rhubarb recipes to try, along with my perennial favourites. I’ve posted about a few on the blog, here are some highlights:

A crumb topping and a cookie crust that hold a rhubarb-lime treasure.

Who needs pineapple when there’s rhubarb around? For another take on this theme, you can try these.

Roasted rhubarb equals rhubarb in/on/instead of everything.

Incredible jam leads to even more incredible jammers.

An epic rhubarb adventure with my nieces.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying peak citrus and even the apples that are still quite good at this time of year. I managed to quell my impatience for spring by catching up on the Crumb-Topped Apple Bars that the Tuesdays with Dorie crew tackled in October. They didn’t last long, so I’m going to make some time for the spring-like meringues everyone (organized) made for this week’s recipe. Then, perhaps, it will be time to start harvesting the first stalks of rhubarb. One can hope.

No resolutions, but a promise

Cute little holiday card

I got a little extra cheer today, in the form of a holiday card that had been hiding at the bottom of my mailbox. Thanks, Betsy! I am now resolved to pull my mailbox down every now and again. That’s as close as I get to a New Year’s resolution.

I am not a resolution-maker, but I do like to make myself a promise or two now and again. Right now, in this gloomiest of Januaries, I’m promising to make time for more creative endeavours. My life has been a little too grindstone-centric of late. I’m missing writing for my blog, but even more I’m missing the connections to the people behind the scenes of my favourite blogs.

It’s not just writing and cooking, though, that I want to do more often. I want to get back to exploring community and creativity and I have a few ideas. I’m even considering joining a choir. (Too East Van? Maybe.)

For now though, I’m making a list of things that have the potential of brightening up the last few weeks of rainy, gloomy Vancouver winter. I encourage you to make your own list, wherever you are, then share it with me.

Get Out of the House

It’s nearly time for Dine Out Vancouver, which is a great, affordable way to experience creative set menus at some of Vancouver’s best restaurants. I’ve had some terrific meals and some interesting adventures at my Dine Out choices over the years.

You can also be fed, in a less literal way, with the smorgasbord of offerings from this year’s PuSh Festival.

Scottish Caramel Pu-erh

Or Hunker Down, I’m Not Judging You

There’s a new tea shop on Commercial Drive, Babylon Tea Company. Ye Olde East Van Tea Drinkers (we’re not a club, but we should be) have been speculating on when it would open for months. And now it has, I’m finding myself wanting to stay home and nurse a cup…well, let’s be real…a pot of their Scottish Caramel Pu-erh all evening. I’m actually afraid to go back, because I am susceptible to developing a tea of the week habit.

And speaking of good habits, the lovely folks at Tea Sparrow have a new initiative, the Community Grocer. Healthy, plant-based foods delivered to the door, helping you wait out winter. I’m hoping to tell you a little more about this soon.

The Globe & Mail Holiday Crossword

Be Good to Your Brain

Crave the spotlight? Find out if you’ve got chops at Vancouver Theatre Sports‘ Saturday drop-in.

Or get ready to conquer Paris with conversational aplomb with Alliance Francaise. It’s also a great excuse to go to Salade de Fruits for a long French language lunch.

And if you’re really daring, you can stretch both body and mind in one of Harbour Dance‘s many classes. Just make sure you invite me to opening night.

Okay, it’s back to the grindstone for me. But, I’m back on the regular in 2018 with lots to share with you. So add me to your list of gloom-chasing strategies. Or, maybe just grab a cup of tea and we’ll hang out.

Inside Green: Greening the City, From the Inside Out

Spider plant from Inside Green

As our cities move upward and inward, with concrete replacing much of the green space that intertwined traditional neighbourhoods, we risk losing more than just a little elbow room. Urban green spaces are the only connection some of us have to nature and when they’re farther and fewer between, we may lose that connection altogether.

At the same time, social disconnection in our cities is increasing. The Vancouver Foundation‘s Connections and Engagement report has become famous for exposing the loneliness and social isolation that many Vancouverites feel and its findings highlight the challenges of finding community in this city and others.

Sue Biely was well-aware of these issues, but she was focused on solving another problem: resistance to climate change action. There is a gap between the science and the action taken by governments and at climate summits. There’s an even larger gap in the understanding of the urgency of these issues between climate change experts and much of the world’s populace, especially in privileged regions of the world.

She began wondering, “What would be the minimum intervention that could increase awareness of environmental issues?” Activism and larger interventions won’t have an impact on people who don’t, in her words, have a lived, visceral connection to the natural world.

She was also looking for an additive intervention, as most of what we’re told around climate change action is what we shouldn’t be doing. What kind of small action would add to someone’s life, while connecting them to the planet?

Sue Biely of Inside Green
Image courtesy of Inside Green

“A wacky idea that took a while to articulate.”

Eventually, Sue found the inspiration she needed in her own home. As someone who travelled for work for many years, her first act upon returning home would be to check in on her plants. Her attachment to her plants was the genesis of Inside Green, leading her to wonder what impact plants could have as an additive intervention in city-dwellers’ lives, first as vehicles to increase climate change awareness and later as a method of increasing green space and social connection in urban environments.

From there, the idea of creating a web of plant stewards across Vancouver grew into a pilot project, funded by a grant from Arts BC and Creative BC. Inside Green started with a website and 400 plants that were selected by Brian Minter, who chose 10 plant varieties that are easy to look after and easily propagatable. Sue said she was especially thrilled to have him on board, as she’d grown up listening to him on the radio, which helped to develop her own love of plants.

Inside Green Plant Stewards
Image courtesy of Inside Green

A network of plants.

The first questions they wanted to answer were whether or not people would want to become part of a network of plant stewards across the city and then, what percentage of those people would propagate their plants.

After an initial test with friends and family, they took the project to Vancouver Farmers Markets. Just as Brian Minter had, they understood the project’s mission right away and allowed them to book community tables at four of their markets, in parts of the city that are the most urbanized. The response was overwhelming.

There are now 500 Inside Green plants in the City of Vancouver, with a 30% propagation rate thus far, and with some plants in their third generation. That more than answers their initial questions.

Over the next six months, Inside Green will be asking a host of new questions and exploring avenues for funding and expanding the project. The hope is that Inside Green will spread to cities across the world, but they like to have local impacts as well. Their first round of containers for the plants, which act as “cribs” for plant propagation, were made from tomato cans that were removed from the waste stream in a Yukon community that has the capacity to collect recyclable materials, but has nowhere to send them on for recycling. They’re also looking at working with the local binners program to collect and prepare cans, going forward.

Another initiative they’re testing is using proceeds from corporate gifting of Inside Green plants to fund plants for low-income people in places like social housing or seniors’ facilities. Making green space available to as many people as possible, regardless of socio-economic status, is something Inside Green is keen to explore.

It will be interesting to see where they’ve taken the project a year from now.

Arachne the spider plant

“Everybody deserves to have something to nurture.”

Most of us know that houseplants improve the air quality in your home, pulling out pollutants and carbon dioxide, while replenishing the air with oxygen and water vapour. They also calm the mind and provide some of the same mood and health benefits as taking a walk in the woods. As Sue points out, “people relax, heal faster, and learn better” when they live and work with plants in their spaces.

But it’s another one of plants’ benefits that is key to their role in Inside Green. They provide their stewards with an opportunity to nurture and intimately interact with a living thing. This is something that is becoming rarer in this city and in urban environments around the globe. In Vancouver, it can be nearly impossible to find pet-friendly accommodations, private outdoor green space is being eliminated with every new development, and the wait lists for community gardens can make them seem like a retirement dream.

For Sue, the idea that, in ten or twenty years, many people may have no visceral connection to how nature works is sobering. But houseplants provide an intervention against alienation from nature, one that works in the most urban of environments, across economic circumstances. Caring for a plant requires attention to natural cycles, as plants grow at their own pace, with active and dormant periods. Inside Green’s plant stewards create a relationship with their plant that gives them a reason to connect – with their plant, with other people who have Inside Green plants from the same propagation lineage, and ultimately, with nature and the environment.

To join Inside Green’s network of plant stewards, start here. Alternatively, you can make friends with one of the many plant stewards who have plant babies on the way. Once my plant babies are ready to leave the nest, I’ll be sharing a follow up post, on my experience as a plant steward, another steward’s thoughts, and more.

Thanks to Sue Biely and Regan Gorman of Inside Green, for taking the time to talk to me about the project.

I learned about Inside Green from a friend who became a Plant Steward on a visit to Farmers Market. I reached out to them for interviews and signed up to be a Plant Steward. No compensation was received for this piece.

The Swiftest Month

Has September been as busy for you as it has been for me? It seems to have flown by so far.

I’m trying to remain present, though, even through the busiest of times. When the glory of Metro Vancouver’s mountains, forests, and oceans are all around us here, it would be a shame not to be awake to it. 


I haven’t been so busy that I’ve let go of doing some planning for the blog, though.

I’m starting to put together the list for my annual holiday book review series, starting with Better Baking by Genevieve Ko. If it’s any indication, this year’s series is going to knock it out of the park.

And I’m working on a feature of a local social and environmental initiative that I’m excited to tell you about.

In the meantime, I’ve got some cooking and baking to do for Cook the Book Fridays and Tuesdays with Dorie.

September shows no sign of slowing down yet.

A Late Summer Round-Up

Informal Installation

August means vacations, farmers’ markets, days at the beach and in the woods. But there’s also a surfeit of festivals, performances, and events this month. So when your vacation days are spent, your fridge is full, and hungry bears take precedence over hikers, there’s still lots left to do.

Here are a few of the things that caught my attention:

The PNE is more than just mini-doughnuts, Superdogs, and gravity-defying rides – it’s also a musical treasure trove. Their Summer Nights series is a mixed bag of nostalgia acts and current bands, with great seating (if you get there early) and an unbeatable price – it’s free with admission to the Fair. This year’s highlights include Culture Club and A Tribe Called Red.

The Museum of Vancouver has another intriguing exhibition running this summer and fall, All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their Worlds. I love the way their curators stretch stretch the boundaries of what a museum is supposed to contain. This show includes a seed bank, fly fishing gear, action figures, and drag wear.

The Vancouver Mural Festival may be over, but its legacy is the art it has left in its wake. Make your own Mount Pleasant walking tour, using the mural map as your guide.

And then, there’s Pet-A-Palooza, for those who think that free samples aren’t something that should be restricted to humans.

There are also festivals, markets, and performances happening all over Metro Vancouver over the next few weekends. It can be hard to decide what to do. I had that problem this past weekend. I ended up at the Columbia StrEAT Food Truck Festival. On Friday, I’ll tell you why.

A Complainer’s Lament

Coffee

When it comes to complaints, I’m better at the big picture. Inequities have a direct line to my indignation engine, so to speak. But for the smaller stuff – bad meals, long waits, disappointing goods or services – my strategy is different. I’m more likely to quietly get a refund and never return than I am to complain in person or online. Of course, I’ll ask for what I need, but I don’t generally make a formal complaint.

Recently, I made an exception. I had a bad experience at a café I love. I quietly asked for a refund and left. When I got home, I decided to write an email to the owners, because the service I’d received was entirely different from the reception I’d had there every other time I’ve been. I also realized I’d miss going there and wanted to see what their response to my email would be.

Happily, I received a wonderful reply from the owner, who offered an apology (which I accepted) and a gift certificate (which I turned down). I realized that I’d been quite apprehensive about the response and I started thinking about my relationship to complaints.

I realized there are two parts to my feelings about complaining: one, an old-fashioned, middle-class idea that complaining is vulgar (and yes, I’m embarrassed by all the implications of that feeling); the other, that I can’t know the whole story of where an interaction went wrong. I think the second part is the one worth investigating.

A few years ago, I went to a panel discussion called The Art of Food Writing, as part of the North Shore Writers Festival. The panelists were asked whether they wrote bad reviews and the response that struck me the most was from veteran food writer, Stephanie Yuen. She said that she used to trash restaurants, but eventually changed her tone, because she didn’t want to damage anyone’s career. She stopped writing about what she doesn’t like altogether, saying, “It’s only my taste, after all.”

It’s something I’ve been doing without really reflecting on it, whenever I choose to do reviews on my blog. I celebrate restaurants, events, and even products that I love, while remaining silent on those that I dislike. Since I don’t work for The New York Times, I think that’s an ethical strategy. Who am I to affect someone’s livelihood in that way? It’s only my taste, after all.

But clearly there is a place for complaints and we all have to draw our own lines. For me, an email from my personal (not blog) account to a business that matters to me is worth the effort. For others, a focus on consumer advocacy or restaurant excellence might mean that negative reviews are part of what they do.

I am curious to see where others draw the line. I’d love it if you’d share your own relationship to complaints and bad reviews in the comments.

A Loaf of Bread

Old Fashioned Oatmeal Bread

Sometimes it’s when my pantry is almost empty that the urge to bake is strongest. At the moment, I’m almost completely out of sugar (both brown and white), there are only a few cups of all-purpose flour left in a cut-down 5 kilogram bag, my store of eggs is dwindling, and I’ve just enough butter to grease a pan or two.

So of course, my head is full of cakes and cookies, muffins and breads. I took stock and realized I had plenty of molasses and a brick of shortening. I reached back to memories of childhood baking and one of the first breads I learned how to make.

No knead bread is quite sophisticated these days, based on sourdough artisan loaves, but when I was a kid it was a simple, old fashioned recipe. My go to baking book back then was Betty Crocker’s New Good and Easy Cook Book, which I pulled down when I wanted to make Snickerdoodles, Chocolate Crinkles, Brownies, or Blondies.

But I also ventured into the savoury baked goods section and the “Easy Oatmeal Bread” was a great confidence-builder for a young baker. My mother made wonderful breads and I often helped her with the measuring, mixing, and kneading. It was a while before I had the confidence to make those breads on my own. This no knead bread was easy enough for me to make after school and have ready before supper.

My mother’s copy was a reprint of the 1962 edition. I found two copies of the same edition at a library sale long ago, kept one for myself, and gave the other to my sister. So, when I’m feeling nostalgic, or when my pantry stores are reduced to the levels of a more frugal era, I pull mine off the shelf.

Tonight, I revisited that oatmeal bread, making some substitutions and additions that helped bring it a little closer to the 21st Century. When you make it, feel free to use butter in place of the shortening. But if you find yourself short of butter, as I did tonight, you might be surprised at how much you enjoy this bread with an old school dose of shortening.

Oatmeal bread ready for the oven

Old Fashioned No Knead Oatmeal Bread

  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 3 tbsp. shortening, softened
  • 1/4 cup fancy molasses
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 pkg. active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water (100°C)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. sliced almonds
  • 1 tbsp. flax seeds

Grease a 9″X5″X3″ loaf pan with butter. Set aside.

Put all-purpose flour into a medium-sized bowl. Then, sift whole wheat flour into the bowl, adding any bran that’s left in the sifter afterward. Lightly whisk the flours together. Set aside.

Fit the paddle attachment onto a stand mixer. Add the boiling water, rolled oats, shortening, molasses, and salt to the bowl of the mixer. Stir together on low, then allow to cool until it’s lukewarm.

Meanwhile, cool 1/4 cup of boiled water to 100°C, then add yeast, stirring until dissolved.

Add yeast, egg, and half the flour to the bowl of the stand mixer. Beat for two minutes on medium speed.

Add the rest of the flour, along with a pinch of nutmeg, and stir until almost completely incorporated. Add sliced almonds and flax seed, then stir until all ingredients are incorporated.

Spread the dough into the prepared loaf pan, making sure the top is even and smooth. Allow the loaf to rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours.

Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake 40-50 minutes. The loaf is done when it is well-browned and sounds hollow when knocked. Remove the loaf from the pan, place on a wire rack, and if you like, brush with melted butter. Cool completely.

Adapted from Betty Crocker’s New Good and Easy Cook Book (1962 edition)

Sliced oatmeal bread

Spring Things

Persea Fumée

It’s been an busy season so far and there’s lots more to come, at least there is around here. The photos scattered through this post are from two of the events I’ve attended this month – the Avo Showdown and the Lick My Plate launch. Now I’m looking forward to fun with food, stimulating presentations, and more than a little art appreciation over the next few weeks.

Lick Your Plate treats

Tomorrow, the Heritage Vancouver Society hosts the first in the Shaping Vancouver 2016 series – What’s a Neighbourhood? In the face of so much change in our city, what are the things we should be preserving or encouraging to maintain and promote community in our neighbourhoods?

AvoShowdown entries

This coming weekend, you’ve got a chance to weigh in on the Vancouver Public Library’s future. Whatever comes of these sessions, that future should include physical books. They’re still the surest way to guarantee equal access to knowledge, especially in a climate of growing income inequality.

Lick Your Plate swag

The weekend after, there are two events I’m excited about – the Parker Art Salon and the East Van Hop Circuit.

The Parker Art Salon is a chance to view and buy art from the studios at 1000 Parker Street, with a little less chaos and much warmer weather than November’s Culture Crawl. The Hop Circuit is a self-guided tour of 13 of my neighbourhood’s craft breweries, with some samples, insider tours, and food trucks. Both are within walking distance for me, cycling distance for many, and transit for everyone else – I wouldn’t drive if I were you, the parking alone will just make you miserable. Between the two events, I think I’ve got that weekend covered.

AvoShowdown contestants

And just in case you need a little incentive to (a) add to your cookbook collection and (b) get canning/fermenting/preserving, the folks behind Well Preserved have released a cool zine-style bonus package for their upcoming Batch Cookbook. Once you’ve pre-ordered the book, you can find the download link, here.

AvoShowdown appetizers

At the very least, April’s already shaping up to be a delicious month, if what I’ve tasted so far is any indication.

Avocado Parfait

Food in the Fraser Valley

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It’s become a habit of mine to kick off the spring season with a visit to the Fraser Valley Food Show. I’ve told you about it before, and this year was just as enjoyable.

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This year I brought my partner for the first time, so much of our time was spent exploring the Gluten-Free Living section, so much so that we came home with bags packed with products we bought to try. I’ll be featuring a few of the ones we like best in upcoming blog posts.

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I was on my own for the sausage-tasting, since my partner is vegan, but there was plenty to occupy his time before we reconvened in the wine, beer, and spirits tasting area. I ate my way through about ten excellent offerings and was hard pressed to choose a winner, so I’m not sure how the judges, who tried many more, could come to their decisions. You can see the list of winners here.

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Here are a few of the highlights for me this year:

Nextjen gluten-free flours

Ravens Brewing Company Dry Irish Stout

Wayward Distillation House‘s Unruly Gin, Vodka, and ‘Depth Charge’ liqueur

Nuoc Cham Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

Onnick’s Blueberry Farm‘s bottled iced teas

Stapleton Sausage Co.‘s duck sausage with blueberry, made with Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry duck

ZipGrow Farm Walls

Hanes Hummus

Simply Delish Soup and Salad gluten-free soup mixes

That’s just a sampling of what we enjoyed at this year’s show. I’m hoping to do a little exploring of some of the farms and makers in the Fraser Valley this year, so stay tuned for more!

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I attended the Fraser Valley Food Show on a media pass, but had no obligation to review or write about any aspect of the show. All opinions are my own.