Tuesday, September 29, 2009

From Farm to Bottle

Did you know that Quebec has a farm-brewery? Neither did I until recently.

Located in Ste-Polycarpe in Montéregie, the Ferme Brasserie Schoune may be the first modern farm-brewery in North America. Founded by immigrants from Belgium, the farm has been growing corn, grain, soybeans, buckwheat and malting barley since 1980. A little over ten years ago, they started brewing their own beer from their farm products. All their beers are unpasteurized and brewed using traditional Belgian methods with only natural ingredients. Almost all of them are award-winning.

The microbrasserie currently offers several year-round beers, as well as a selection of limited edition brews. One, Rur'Ale, is completely made from Quebec ingredients for a 100% local brew. (I believe their hops are from their own farm, but I'm not sure.) Look for them at select grocery stores (mostly Metro), dépanneurs and specialty stores across the province.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bye Bye Bluefin

Who'd have thought tuna could cause such a fuss? Scientists, environmentalists and politicians, of course. At issue in Europe this week is bluefin tuna, considered to be one of the most expensive and valuable sushi fish in the world. But the rise in popularity of sushi has taken its toll on bluefin tuna stocks. Since the 1970s, the population of Atlantic bluefin tuna has declined by as much as 90%. Bluefins are big fish and take a long time to mature. Increasingly, juvenile fishes are being caught before they have a chance to breed.

Environmentalists, including Japanese scientists, believe that overfishing is pushing bluefin tuna to extinction. One media story by ITV refers to the future of the bluefin as being 'as precarious as the Giant Panda," and some scientists believe that extinction may be as close as three years away unless firm action is taken now.

This week, the European Union (EU) executive commission urged member countries to agree to a temporary ban on bluefin catches until fish stocks recover. The United States is also calling for a ban. However, countries that regularly fish the bluefin have stalled the proposal. Japan is the main consumer of bluefin tuna and the Japanese are willing to pay a high price for the fish. Over 80% of bluefin tuna caught in the Atlantic and Mediterranean are exported there. Japan's own pacific bluefin is also overfished and there are calls to list both on the International endangered species list.

It really angers me that some politicians can't see beyond economy and politics to the bigger environmental issues. Yes, banning fishing on a lucrative export item has economic consequences, but the longer-term consequences (both environmental and economic) are more devastating. Have politicians learned nothing from the collapse of the cod fishery in the Canadian Grand Banks?

So what can we do as consumers?

  • Don't consume bluefin tuna (also known as Kuromaguro, Atun de aleta azul, thon rouge)
  • Order albacore tuna (shiro maguro) instead at sushi restaurants
  • Encourage your local restaurant or fishmonger to purchase a sustainable alternative
  • Support groups like Oceana and WWF who are lobbying for the fishing ban
  • Write your minister asking Canada to support the ban

Links to other articles and videos on this topic:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Frugal Kitchen

A recent post on the travel blog Almost Fearless got me thinking again about frugality in the kitchen and the importance of a well-stocked pantry. These days many people rely on frozen family meals or packaged prepared ingredients. Yet with a few key ingredients always on hand in the pantry or freezer, I find I can create tasty, nutritious meals from scratch in about the same length of time that it would take to get a frozen pizza or lasagna to the table.

So what are my staples? Beyond fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, my pantry relies heavily on dried beans and lentils, frozen soups and vegetables, canned/jarred sauces, rice, couscous, bulgar, pasta and potatoes. I always have eggs, cheese and yogurt in the fridge, as well as quickly-defrostable sustainable fish (usually salmon, tuna, mackerel, black cod, or scallops ) in the freezer. Baking supplies, like flour, are also always on hand.

Now, I must confess that I do have a couple of commercially-prepared food addictions. Perhaps it's the Brit in me, but I am totally addicted to Patak's curry pastes. They're easy to use, good quality, and spice up any meal in a matter of minutes. I also have a couple of canned curries that I regularly keep in my pantry. Canned beans and chickpeas are also present as practical back-ups to the dried variety, although I usually have soaked beans in the freezer.

So using these ingredients, what can I whip up in under 20 minutes? Here are a few suggestions for quick hot meals:
  • Hearty vegetable and cheese fritatta
  • Pasta and sauce
  • Soup and scones
  • Blackened salmon, rice and steamed veggies
  • Stir-fry with farmed scallops
  • Moroccan chick-pea soup
  • Curried red lentil soup served with yogurt
  • Quinoa chili
With a little bit of planning, like soaking beans or lentils, or leaving dough to rise:
  • Chickpea curry and Naan-style bread
  • Lentils and rice
  • Cuban black beans
  • Homemade pizza
Most of these things are quick and affordable to make, even with organic ingredients. If you're making and freezing (or canning) your own soups and sauces using local vegetable when in season, then a good portion of the meals can be local too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Certification for Local Products?

Wow. Ottawa, you inspire me. Not only do you have fabulous, reasonably-priced, local-food restaurants, but I just found out about your 'certified local' program. This is how the Ottawa-based food blog, FoodiePrints, describes it:

In Ottawa, we have several farmer's markets whose vendors proudly sport Savour Ottawa posters (http://www.savourottawa.ca/). These posters denote that the producer or retailer has been certified via an audit by a third-party organization to produce local products or sell goods that are made from local products. Further, many of the locally-owned restaurants have already diversified their supply chains, pairing themselves with local farms. Some have even taken to growing their on produce in personal gardens. Many have even partnered with our local sustainable fin-fish and shell-fish supply.
What a fabulous idea! Wouldn't it be great if Montreal had something similar? The closest we get is the "Aliments de Quebec" logo that I'm noticing in supermarkets these days. While it is a valuable initiative, Quebec is a pretty big place. The label also isn't applicable to restaurants, which doesn't help me to choose establishments that are promoting local products and economies. I'd love to see the label expanded to include the tourism region of the producer (i.e., Aliments de Quebec - Montéregie) and a poster program for our local restaurants.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Taste of Farm Life

Ever wondered how your food grows or what a dairy farm looks like? Well you can get a peak this weekend at the Open House on Quebec Farms organized by the Union des Producteurs Agricoles (UPA) of Québec. Over 100 farms will open their doors to over 30,000 people between 10am and 4pm this Sunday, September 13th.

This is a great activity for adults and kids alike. Many of the participating farms have activities planned for all ages, as well as demonstrations, guided tours, product tastings, and even door prizes. So pack a light picnic, grab the kids or some friends, and hit the road for the day in a country.

Close to Montreal, a sample Eastern Townships itinerary may include a visit to the pork and dairy producer Ferme DGR Thibault in Saint-Valérian, the goat farm la Chèvrerie des Acacias and the orchard Val Caudalies in Dunham, and the produce farm (pumpkin, corn strawberries) La Roi de la Fraise in Saint-Paul d'Abbotsford. A trip in the Lanaudière region may include a duck farm (Ferme L'Oie d'or) in Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon, and a bison farm (La Terre des bisons), potato farm (Les fermes Rivest Bourgeois inc.), and apiary (Les ruchers du troubadour) in Rawdon.

The UPA website for the open house event offers a variety of tools for planning your day out. You can browse farms by region or by type of farm. You can also consult a master google map of all participating farms. Enjoy!