Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Local, Organic and Gluten-Free

I seem to be having an epidemic of friends and colleagues being diagnosed with celiac disease these days. Gluten intolerance can really challenge your dietary and shopping choices. If you're also someone who prefers to shop local or organic, your choices are further limited. Unfortunately, many of the gluten-free products sold in supermarkets and health food stores are mass-produced and shipped in from across the continent. What is a mindful consumer to do? Fortunately, there are local gluten-free products.

One product line that comes to mind immediately are the pâtés available from Les Viandes Biologiques de Charlevoix. I'm not sure if they're all gluten-free, but certainly the pâté de campagne and a version of the cretons de porc are. (Seriously! They've replaced the traditional breadcrumbs in the cretons with rice flour.) I also recall that some of their dry sausages are gluten-free. Look for their products at Fromagerie Atwater and Maitre Boucher.

Another local supplier with some gluten-free products is Boucherie Valens. Check the label. Increasingly available around the city, all of the their meat comes from from small family farms in the Huntington region that are devoted to raising their animals humanely and sustainably. I've recently seen their meats, cold-cuts, bacon and sausages at Maitre Boucher, Pousse Ananas, and PA. You can also order from them directly.

While not totally local, GoGo Quinoa is a Quebec-based business that offers organic, fair-trade and gluten-free products imported from cooperatives in South America. Their products are widely available in health food and grocery stores across the province.

For take-home meals to reheat, Restaurant Marché Serafim opposite the Marché Bonsecours in Old Montreal offers some gluten-free choices. All of their food is organic and wheat-free. A lot of it is also local. Prices are reasonable, especially considering the location!

I'm sure there are other mindful, gluten-free products out there. If you know of some that I've missed, leave a comment or drop me a note.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Harvest Brownies

Looking at a pile of beets I pulled from my garden recently, I was reminded about a childhood treat: red velvet cake. While some recipes for this classic cake use red food colouring, my mum's used beetroot. Perhaps it was her way of getting veggies into us, although you'd never know it. It made a fabulously rich and moist cake that looked and tasted fantastic.

When I went rooting around for a recipe for red velvet cake, I came across a few recipes for chocolate beetroot brownies. Now, I'm more of a brownie girl than a cake girl, so the brownie recipes got the try. As well, unlike the red velvet cake recipes, the beetroot only required grating, not cooking.

I like this recipe because it doesn't use a lot of sugar. The brownies are also rich, moist, and a deep dark red. (Perfect for a Hallowe'en table too!) I've found that if I use fresh beetroot from my garden that I don't need to peel them. I only need to scrub them. I suspect, however, that if you're using stored or conventionally-farmed beetroot that you're better off peeling since the skin is probably tough and bitter.

Chocolate Beetroot Brownies
(Adapted from La Tartine Gourmand)

• 4 oz fair-trade dark chocolate (at least 70%)*
• 7/8 cup unbleached flour
• 1 cup ground almonds
• 1/3 cup fair-trade sugar
• 1/2 cup butter, softened
• 4 eggs at room temperature
• 7 oz (200 g) shredded raw red beetroot
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• Icing sugar** and cocoa for decoration

Set aside the butter and eggs so they are are at room temperature before you start mixing the ingredients. Meanwhile, peel and shred the beetroot. Combine the shredded beetroot in a bowl with the flour and ground almonds. Set aside. Also, melt the chocolate over hot water and then set it aside to cool.

Cream the butter then add the eggs. Beat well until well-blended and frothy. Add the sugar and mix well. Add the vanilla, the melted chocolate and the flour, almonds and beetroot. Mix well.

Oil a square cake pan and dust the bottom lightly with flour. Pour the brownie batter into it and bake in a preheated oven at 350F for about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool the brownies in the pan slightly before turning them out onto a cake rack. To serve, cut into squares and dust with cocoa and confectioner's sugar.

* To substitute cocoa for dark chocolate, combine 1/2 cup cocoa, 3 tbsp sugar and 3 tbsp oil or butter over a double boiler until smooth.

** I recently discovered fair-trade icing sugar at my local Loblaws. Look for it!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Asking the Uncomfortable Questions

I had to chuckle when I read the following from a recent article in the Denver Post:

After spending time on Arapaho Ranch, I believe I can reconcile my carnivorous ways with that which comes before I take my first bite: the animal's slaughter.

What meat do I eat now? Meat from animals that were raised humanely. I guess that makes me a "humane-itarian."

This demands research on my part. It asks more of my wallet, which means I'll eat less meat. It turns restaurant-dining, for the most part, into an adventure in vegetarianism. It could make for uncomfortable dinner parties ("Was this chicken raised humanely? You don't know? Oh, OK. I'll just have the carrots.").

You see, substitute 'humanely' for 'ethically' and that's me. And I do ask the uncomfortable questions at dinner parties and restaurants. (I'm very grateful that I have friends who are thick-skinned.) And I will eat the carrot sticks if the meat isn't reasonably local and raised naturally. That's how I do my activism. I won't make a big deal out if it, and I try to be reasonably discrete, but I will ask the questions. By doing this, I both stick to my principles and raise awareness among the people I'm in contact with. Sure, asking the question may feel uncomfortable, but the rewards are great. Afterwards, almost always someone at the table or party will ask me questions. Then a whole discussion gets going. What an opportunity!

I call this ripple activism. Like that old 1970s hair advert: if I tell two friends and they tell two friends and so on and so on and so on... It ripples out. Someone else recently suggested I call it trust activism or relationship activism. People are more inclined to believe in a cause or take action in it when they hear about it from someone they know.

So go on. I challenge you: Ask the uncomfortable questions.