Thursday, April 28, 2011

Canadian Federal Election 2011: Green Party Platform: Food Issues

I have thought long and hard about this particular post.  The Green's platform consists of twelve pages with a mention of subsidies to help those farmers wishing to begin organic farming.  That's it?  Not quite, they have a full discussion of food, farming and other food issues in their Vision Green document.  These posts were meant to review the platforms and not supporting documents, so I am not sure how to proceed in a fair and balanced manner.   Wait a sec, I am not a journalist and I am not even a fake news show host so...

The Greens have the most comprehensive position on Food Issues but you can see the ideological underpinnings and I question these.  Food safety is considered to be better with organics and I am not sure that is true.  Yes, we have less residual pesticide and herbicide but throughout history there have been famines and food bourne illnesses that have been eradicated.  There are so many other reasons to have organic foods in the mix that this focus seems narrow.

There is an anti corporate bent to the whole document and while I tend to be mistrustful and sometimes biased (Hello Starbucks), I am not totally against the idea of corporations.  The food system is broken or at least not running optimal but to place the blame solely at the feet of corporations is to ignore some basic human self interest. Who chooses more expensive food over cheaper?  Who buys tomatoes out of season and then complains about the taste but still wants a garden salad in January? 

The best purpose of the Green Party's platform is to act like a slow trawler waiting to be pirated by the politicians.  They are possibly the most fiscal conservative of the parties but to implement the changes that they suggest would mean a radical shift in the economy and I am not sure that mainstream Canadians are ready for it.  I am sure that many of the sectors are not quite there but this type of switch would mean that the government is choosing new winners and losers.

This review of the platforms leaves me angry and cynical.  In Canada, we traditionally vote for the least offensive option and I think that is what will happen this time as well.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review: Edible Stories: A Novel in Sixteen Parts

The book is written by Mark Kurlansky who holds a lot of writing credits and awards and stuff.  There are sixteen short stories with interconnecting characters having titles of dishes from Bean Curd to Red Sea Salt.  Only one story/chapter is named after something that may not be food -- Margaret.  The stories all stand on their own but are arranged in chronological order with the dish at the beginning, Red Sea Salt, making an appearance at the end.

Some of the pieces are more like short portraits or vignettes reading Carveresque.  I was always trying to find the emotional element and how it connected to the food.  Food is used the way colour is used for great movies -- "The Wizard of Oz" or "Pleasantville".  I didn't always understand the complex unexplained emotions of the characters until the relationship of the food was discovered.  The way a hot dog doomed a relationship, or the forbidden thrill of a muffin schemed for and enjoyed alone, or the joy in stolen caviar.  

Just the way some dishes evoke a memory and feeling in real life, these foods now convey a literary reference that has made its way into my emotional memory.  Some of these little bites now occupy a space like the comfort of oatmeal or the pleasure of butter tarts.  This is all due to the skill of the writer to allow spaces between the characters and the food item that you have to fill with your interpretations making them real.  A good dish eaten is not soon forgotten.

Aside from the pure foodiness of the book, I would recommend this to anyone who likes short stories.   Novel readers may not like the disjointedness and the effort required to mantain the connections between the characters and the loose growth between stories.  It is well written and evocative prose that will come back to me even as I sip my espresso...Viva la revolucion... after this cup and maybe one more. (Read the story...)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Canadian Federal Election 2011: NDP Platform: Food Issues

Short and sweet, clearly stated on page 15.  Better food safety by hiring more inspectors and giving the Canadian Food Inspection Agency more powers and wider mandate.  Clearer labeling in regards to where the food is from, what it has in it and whether it is genetically modified  (Does the Codex Alimentarius know about this?)

They also have a clear set of points aimed at Canadian Farmers that would apply largely to producers of all sizes.  There are a few to the ideal of the farmer whose sons are leaving...but really seem more aimed at the new breed of niche market farmers. 

Clean and clear.  Speaks directly to voters and not couched in intricacies.  Does this mean that the approach is too simple or does the NDP just have better writers?  Next up...the Greens, I will be missing one party in my riding only because I was unable to find the Marxist-Lenin platform online.

Canadian Federal Election 2011: Liberal Platform: Food Issues

So, the Liberals are making a National Food Policy a major plank.  Food is mentioned substantially on pp.
34-35, 66-67, and 77.  More does not make better or even more complete.   National Food Policy is seen as part of health promotion and makes sense within the rest of the platform and focus on healthcare. 

There are some fighting words about creating a new Healthy Choices program, progressive labeling regs and strong new regulatory standards on transfat and salt...a little late barndoor closing seems to be in effect.  Maybe we should ban lead in food while we are at it.  Also, the Healthy Choices always seems too open to private sector input.  More money for Healthy Start which is an admirable program that promotes local food to low-income families and expanding the program.

There is a Buy Local Fund that would promote local and hope to create a Farmers' Market market, I guess.  I'm not fond of intervention but I am not sure how else that this kind of pressure to create Canadian markets internally could be accomplished.  There are some that would suggest that if a farmer can't make it on their own, then they should fold.  I somewhat agree with this but there is already so much interference and subsidies to the larger actors that something must be done to even out the field.  So, pending an overhaul of the system, this would be a good interim step to fixing the system.

Oh, and fix the Food Inspection...seems reasonable... but at what cost?  Reminds me that we have had some issues with Chinese imports.  An aside, still can't get local garlic at the chain grocery stores...get it at the farmer's market.  Yeah, it's more expensive but not bleached and really fresh.

There is some lip service to finding a better way to develop and build farm programs from a bottom up structure to allow flexibility of local markets to better serve their needs. 

The general gist is that we have a great environment and safe food and this is an exportable commodity.  The Liberals will try to ensure that agreements can be made with China and India. 

Overall this platform has enough detail that the merits of different types of intervention can at least be discussed.  Costing is provided, some concrete examples are there.  I, at least, have something that I can crab about.

Canadian Federal Election 2011: Conservative Platform: Food Issues

The platform contains two pages (58-59) on Food Issues, mostly around ensuring that Canadian farmers have access to other markets and protection in trade negotiations and disputes.  Somehow I doubt that this is for small or even medium size farms.  I know that there are few family farms extant but I still like to think that there are many smaller concerns that are not part of the larger agri business that are putting out good products. The achievement that the Conservative Party points out is the canola exports to China. 

We can expect a National Farm and Food Strategy sometime "to sustain the Canadian family farm, to strengthen food safety, and to open new markets for the world-class products of Canadian farmers."   I can't decode the double speak in this statement and do not know enough of the players but it may be in response to the fact that during the last parliament there was a major food safety issue around meats, and I guess the continuing use of mad cow as a trade barrier.

Oh, and farmers will have access to fast tracked innovations done elsewhere -- sounds like big companies finding a way of developing one product and having streamlined access to Canadian markets.  There are two more paragraphs about cheese compositional standards and the Wheat Board.  The cheese thing bothers me as it states that cheese compositional standards ensure that real milk is an ingredient in Canadian cheese--are we importing milk and/or milk protein concentrates?  Interesting question.

Nothing excites me about this platform.  Basically, nothing to see here until the promise of a strategy is fulfilled.  Still, nothing to cause me to vote against them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Canadian Federal Election 2011: French Debate

Of all the debates and appearances, I expected this one with its gallic influences and social conscience audience to contain at least a passing reference to farming.  It didn't.  I am surprised because there was a lot of precise and pedestrian questions around, what is a person with three kids and two jobs to do or I am 53 and things aren't looking so good.

I am not trying to trivialize those concerns but in a province that prides itself on its heritage and is so concerned with food, you would expect that the rising food costs would begin to register in this election.   There was some discussion about gas and maybe that is the proxy.  Maybe, due to our insulation against food costs, the issue hasn't hit us.  However, it is helpful to note that many of the protests occuring in the Middle East and North Africa have some elements of agriculture and food unrest -- bread hats in Egypt come to top of head.

Hopefully, in the next few weeks, I will look at the platforms and see if anything specific is offered.  While I realize that this only one plank in a platform, it will help me decide whom I will vote for if a strong preference for local candidate does not present itself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 a cortado?

My travelling friend visited Toronto missing the coffee that he had in Spain.  He described the cortado as 'like a cappuccino but with equal parts coffee to warm milk'.  I finally had a few around town, notably Te Aro and Mad Dog Cafe.

The citizen of the world did mention how the milk does not taste the same in North America as it does in Europe.  Te Aro does something interesting; they like to add a little cream to their milk to up the fat content.  I just like Mad Dog's.  They are using Detour coffee for their espresso blend and it works well with this breakfast and afternoon drink.  I like to think of it as a cafe au lait on steroids. Since cafe au lait was one of my favourite coffee shop coffees for years, I really enjoy these.  They are a smoother, richer and if made correctly, less temperature hot than cappuccinos.

Some coffee snobs might not like this next analogy but if you like Tim Horton's double double, you can grab one of these and add the required sugar and see the difference that a well balanced coffee can make to the most Canadian of coffee drinks.  Just to be a completist, I will mention that the Starbucks equivalent is a misto.

Federal Election 2011: First Debate -- Food Issues


Got nothing...almost nothing.  The Liberals mentioned their National Food Policy in passing as 'putting Canadian food on Canadian plates'.

At a stretch, the temporary workers could refer to Canada's dirty little secret of migrant workers.  Maybe the coming rising food prices could come under the economy but what part of the economy?  Wages, farm subsidies, corporate taxes, strength of the Canadian dollar, environmental factors leading to decreasing yields or what.

Regardless, I am not looking forward to another debate tonight, if very few issues are actually going to be discussed but it is my responsibility as a voter...and I will have to watch something until the Vancouver game is on.  Go 'Nucks.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Canadian Federal Election 2011: Of Food and Farming

So far this election, I have avoided reading blogs about food and politics as I wanted to read the platforms and form my own opinions and thoughts.  Tonight is the first of the debates and I am wondering whether any of the parties or leaders will get into one of the most basic needs. 

What is the role of the federal government in food?  It seems, by my perception, that it works to act as a mediator between agricultural producers (not farmers) and markets (not consumers or people who eat food -- everyone).  Regulations seem to be aimed at larger producers to ensure minimal food safety and maximum access to markets with some protection for the sustainability of the food supply thrown in.  Put another way -- How much money can be made by selling to which people without destroying the natural resource available? 

The other side of the coin is the health benefits of food and food products which is Health Canada`s bailiwick.   It always seems as if there is a struggle between known nutritional science and concerned corporations.  Food guides are political beasts.  Anything by Marion Nestle can destroy your good mood and belief in the idea that the goverment is their only to serve your best interests as an individual. 

The first and easiest `fix` would be to create a department of Food and Farming, deliberately reducing the Agri-Food influence.  Then the discussion could be around whether Agri-business belongs and what its position would be in terms of the other smaller players -- farmers, chefs, and all the rest of us.  It could act as a point to refocus what the electorate thinks the government should be doing rather than act as a guide to corporations to determine the discussion.

In the next few weeks, I will try my best to delve into the platforms and try to see where each party`s policy could make sense.  Being no expert, all I can offer is my opinion but having lived in a rural subsistence milieu, growing up with vegetable gardens, moving to big cities and seeing the rise of buy local; I believe I have some insight.  Barring all that, we all eat food--makes us all experts...I should think.

Recipe for Change

Attention all foodies, foodists, food snobs and hungry people!  There is a food event happening at the St. Lawrence Market on Thursday, May...awww just follow the link, Recipe for Change

There is no need for me to pretend there is any inside baseball on this one.  I haven't been but I am kind of excited.  The price looks a little steep at $100 a ticket until you start picking apart what will be there.  The names are familar to people who read restaurant reviews like the funny pages.   Magical catering, Oyster Boy, the Drake, Didier...etc.  and.. it includes some wines and beers.  Freeish beer anyone?

Under the menu link on the site, all it says is that there will be 'a Tasting Adventure consisting of a series of "composed plates"'.  Please forgive me but Top Chef and elimination challenge pop into my head.

Oh and it is a charity event.

Now if I can only convince my wife...Maybe I can tell her it's for the blog...

Monday, April 11, 2011

1960s/70s Menu Ideas

Soon, we will be putting on a themed dinner party that tries to modernize a 60s/70s retro theme.  Here is the first blush at recreating a modern menu based on that era.  The accompanied drinks are looking like a pitcher of Zombies and Buzz Aldrins.  So as not to ruin some of the interesting surprise elements of the shindig or happening as the kids say, I will say no more until the end of the party.

Recipe Links: 


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Restaurant Review: Wunderland Gallery and Espresso Bar

Welcome to Toronto's Wunderland, a new cafe located at the unofficial beginning of the Beach(es) just east of Woodbine and Queen.  It is located on the old site of the Church of the Universe and now serves two other mind altering experiences; coffee and art.

This is one of the more serene cafes that I have visited in a while.  This is a bona fide gallery where art lines the wall and the furniture is made by the owner, Peter Styrsky.  Soon the patio will be open in one of the best locations in the Beach(es).  Sometimes, food is only one part of an experience.  MFK Fisher's favourite food experience was sharing bread with chocolate with two strangers while climbing in the Swiss Alps.  Set and setting are as crucial to a good food experience as is the food itself.

The calmness of this cafe makes it an ideal place for a local to stop and ready oneself for the shopping on Saturday or a way to steady themselves to return home after picking up their groceries or other goodies from the nearby shops.

When the covetable patio is finally furnished with the natural benches and tables, this setting will be cool during the hot morning sun and warm in the summer nights making it a good place to watch the Blue's Festival or Easter Parade.

With two of the three components to create memorable moments, the third being food/coffee needs to be assessed.  The coffee, both espresso and drip,  is organic and fairtrade with a less roasted flavour than that of the larger chains.  Starbucks does for espresso what Tim Horton's does for drip but this coffee shop walks away from the over roasted flavours.  The coffee is not exceptional but due to the great vibe and beautiful setting, both of art and nature, it will provide for a place of peace that matches the nearby beach in winter even during the rambunctious activity of fairs, parades and the summer time scene.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gifts from Florida

I received three bottles of fresh squeezed Florida grapefruit juice from three different trees in a trailer park in the Sunshine State.  When I tasted them, I was really surprised.  I really should get my camera working because these not only tasted really different from each other, they looked really different.

The first bottle looked like lemon juice with pulp floating on the top and it was obviously juiced from a white grapefruit.  I was expecting this to be the sourest of the three but it turned out to be sweet with a really light flavour of grapefruit.

The second bottle had an orangish tint with some hints of pink.  This was the most balanced tasting of the bunch and it turned out to be the one that my wife would drink.  This is saying something as she does not like grapefruit at all.  There was the sourness of citrus with the sweetness that reminds me of great orange juice.  The pulp seemed to be equally distributed throughout the juice even after sitting in the fridge over night.

The third bottle looked like you would expect pink grapefruit juice to look like.  Pink.  The pulp had settled on the bottom and looked heavy with the pieces looking full and plump. This juice was as sour as lemon juice but really thin flavoured.  It seemed that the flavour appeared and then gone. 

I really appreciated the three very different juices.  I mean I knew that there must be more variation in the fruit than we get here in Canada but this was very obvious.  Reminds me of maple syrup...Hmmm, it is maple season...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Store Review: The Foodist Market

Update:  A sign went up last week (second last week of May 2011) announcing that the store was closing. 

A new market opened up to the east of Queen and Pape to supply the local area with organic and local produce where available.  The sign on the door reminds me that they are currently doing a soft opening but that does not scare me off. 

This store is another in a line of curated food stores where cold cuts and various vegetables are wrapped in plastic.  The current produce selection is hydroponic and local or shipped from foreign lands but organic.  It seems perverse that "better" food requires more oil in the form of plastics and shipping in return for a reduction of pesticides and some fertilizers.

This makes me question the whole labelling and certification of "Organics".  It would be nice to trade that label for a better assurance of local farmers who do all the right things but do not have the time, money or the inclination to get the certification.  I hope that more shops will take that into consideration.  I am willing to accept the word of a good stockist.

Since this is a new store, maybe some of the museum quality of the spacious goods are due to the soft opening or seasonality.  I wonder what will happen when local produce is abundant and the shelves will be too small.  It is a funny business of stocking local and organic; it seems that you are resigned to apples, potatoes, beets and foreign supplied goods in the winter while in the summer there is not enough space for all that is in season.  The winter options could be supplemented with local preserves and canned organics, as long as these are sold by summer.  This natural cycle is the one that grandparents would be familar rather than the 24/365 cycle of cardboard flavoured fruits and vegetables of today.

Another issue with the shop is the tight areas for the shelving for non produce items.  It was quite difficult to get into the U shaped cubbies and be able to view all the goods for sale.  With so much room in the shop, a little more care could and should be taken to allow buyers to see the items.  All in all, this shop reminds me of so many ethnic shops along the Danforth that act like a bridge to another culture with select items from Italy, China, the Caribbean, Greece or some other country but updated to take account of the new urban conscience.

When asked, the owner stated that she just wanted to open a place for organic produce that wasn`t Loblaws or PriceChopper.  While these comments discount the nearby Rowe Farms and the summer market at Withrow Park, it is mainly true.  The store stocks some of the best that can be found at St. Lawrence Market at similarly virtuous prices.  Kozliks mustard and Pingue cold cuts can be found here along with other familiar products.  There is much to recommend this place but with new places such as Sausage Partners cropping up, will this place be able to compete?  I hope for its success but will keep my eye on it over its first summer to see the answers to the questions this shop raises.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Restaurant Review: Mad Dog Cafe

Why do I go to new places when they just open up?  You get to see the places where the business planning succeeds and fails.  Too often, I am disappointed and feel as if I am being unfair.

Mad Dog Cafe opened on March 31st just east of Jones and Gerrard in an area that is sprouting coffee shops.   Grinders has been open here for just under a year with Starbucks opening shortly as well.  So, this location must have something going for it situated at the edge of Chinatown East and south of the Danforth.

The space is TARDISian with an entrance that is easy to miss but opens into a large spacious room.  The counter is at the back with a passthrough into the kitchen where wires wait for a hood for the eventual kitchen.  There are many seats waiting for strollers, yummy mummies, bikes, hipster dads, kids and those just wanting a good cup of coffee.  All the usual suspects are on the menu board with a better than average nod to kids' drinks.  This is a welcome addition to a coffee scene that sometimes forgets there are people with kids who also like coffee.  The space is comfortable in exactly the way that Starbucks is not.

The man who served me is definitely a member of the hypercaffeinated urban tribe of baristas with their finger on the tachycardian pulses of the coffee geeks.  From our conversation that included name dropping of Green Mountain, 49th Parallel, Intelligentsia, and Dark Horse, you get the feeling that this shop will try to deliver unto the coffee geeks that which is theirs without sacrificing an ordinary cup of Joe for anyone else.  They hope to bring in a second grinder to serve french press in the next month or so. Until that time, there will be only one drip along with the espresso.  You could hear the lament in his voice when he spoke of espresso only coffee shops because good coffee is much more than just espresso.

Soooooooooo.... how about the coffee?

Well, the latte was good but not as aggressive as I like (see Broadview Expresso).  It was nuanced and well made.  I will be going back to try other items.  Why do I go to new places when they just open up?   To get a chance at seeing a promising place such as this in its infancy before it gets too popular and crowded.  There is so much upside with this place, I hope that it can keep its promises that do not sound like any of the promises that we are hearing in the current federal election race.   Unlike the election race and new shops, I am not disappointed.

I would recommend this place and when it has its kitchen, I will be taking the rest of the family for a snack and coffee, the highest praise indeed...

The original barista has left, replaced by those of differing skills and talents. On the weekend, is the best of them whereas I am not sure the situation has been settled for the week. On the bright side, the food board is up and the grub is at the level of the prices.