Monday, March 29, 2010

Reel Food Film Festival

Last week I attended the Reel Food Film Festival, which was put on by some great organizations committed to real food and environmentally responsible living. Included in this list were: USC Canada (Unitarian Service Committee of Canada) The Good Food Box, Just Food and COG (Canadian Organic Growers). *I know I missed one here, if anyone remembers it, please let me know! Three films were screened; two shorts and a feature: The Story of Food, Indigenous Plant Diva and Dirt: The Movie.

The Story of Food was a cute film made in the same vein as The Story of Stuff, or The Story of Bottled Water, both created by environmental activist Annie Leonard. This film, created by USC Canada, did a good job of providing basic information about the food system, promoting real food versus factory farming, although I didn't find it to be as compelling as the featurd film of the evening. Perhaps that is what happens when you watch a lot of these types of films -- you start to crave more and more detailed information as you continue to learn. It was animated in a lively and approachable way, however, and I would recommend it to people who are looking for a quick crash course in the industrialization of food and what it does to us, and to our planet. See for yourself:

Indigenous Plant Diva introduced us to Cease Wyss or "TUyTanat", which is her indigenous name, meaning "woman who travels by canoe to gather medicines for all people". The film educates us about plants and their healing properties and how they can be found all around us, even in the most urban areas of Vancouver. The director, Kamala Todd, offers an artistic glimpse into Cease's life, her history, and her knowledge of ancient native traditions connected to plantlife. A beautiful and educational film:

Last but certainly not least, we settled in for the feature film -- Dirt: The Movie. Narrated with authority by Jamie Lee Curtis, this film proves that regardless of the name you assign to it -- dirt, soil, earth, mud -- dirt is essential to our survival. This film was extremely well done and offered facts and opinions from many experts on the topic. Dirt met wine when the film featured Gary Vaynerchuk from Wine Library TV providing information on terroir and how the soil in which the vines grow (in conjunction with climate, rainfall etc.) dictates the aromas and tastes we experience in wines. In his trademark passionate style, Gary even eats the dirt on camera to show the correlation between the taste of the dirt and the flavours in the wine. This film was chock full of fascinating information and inspiring people, but I found two women featured in the film to inspire me the most: Physicist/Environmental Activist Vandana Shiva and Nobel Laureate and Founder of the Green Belt Movement Wangari Maathai. If only to hear what these women have to say, would be one great reason to see this film. For this reason and many others, I definitely recommend you see it! At one point in the film, Wangari Maathai shares her hummingbird story, which is very uplifting and inspiring, and proves that one person can indeed make a difference. Did I mention Alice Waters is also in it? Also for those who need a good laugh, there are some amazingly cute animations of dirt microorganisms throughout the film that certainly made us chuckle. For now, you can enjoy the trailer:

In the end I enjoyed this evening of food-related film, and the cherry on top was the free sample of Cocoa Camino dark chocolate --yum! Congrats to all of the organizations involved for such a great turnout! I look forward to future events.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chef Profile: Scott Vivian of The Wine Bar

By now I'm sure you've heard that The Wine Bar on Church Street in Toronto is no longer preceded by a certain Chef's name. Under new ownership and the culinary leadership of Chef Scott Vivian and his wife Rachelle, The Wine Bar is making a new name for itself, literally. The focus is still on local, seasonal food and unique, memorable wines; the mason jars are still on the walls and the small, tapas style plates are still shared. However, there is a new focus on Mediterranean, Southern and Indian flavours, all influences representing Scott's background and experience.

Having been part of the JK team prior to this new venture, Scott and Rachelle seem to be respecting Chef Kennedy's legacy quite well, while also putting their own stamp on both The Wine Bar and the adjoining cafe, Hank's. From the Southern grits, locally-sourced lunch fare and scrumptious homemade desserts at Hank's to the Mediterranean style tapas plates and wine oddities served in The Wine Bar, there is a taste experience for everyone. Although I haven't yet been to The Wine Bar since I left the big smoke for greener pastures, I am definitely looking forward to some warm hospitality and tasty dishes when I return for a visit.

Until then, I decided it would be good to get to know the man behind the food, so I asked Scott 5 Questions.

After the Harvest (ATH): What's usually on your radio/ipod/stereo when you're cooking at home?

Scott Vivian (SV): It depends on what mood I am in. If I'm doing a dinner party (which I always take on too much) I will listen to something fast paced like Led Zeppelin or The Killers. If I'm just cooking at home for my wife and I (relaxed) usually Bebel Gilberto or something jazzy.

ATH: What is one country known for its food that you are dying to visit?

SV: I am dying to visit India. My mother was born there and I have never been. I would love to see where that side of my family comes from and embrace the rich food culture and people.

ATH: What is your earliest food memory?

SV: I remember my mother making dinner during the week. It was always a certain ethnic theme. Either Italian, Indian, Mexican, etc. Then, on the weekends my Dad would cook brunch. That was super exciting for my sister and I, calling dibs on the most unusual shapes of pancakes. He made really good omelettes, too!

ATH: What ingredient are you the most excited to work with this spring?

SV: I always get excited for Wild Leeks. They are so versatile and I love to use different applications for the tops and the bulbs, especially pickling them when they get big. I am also, very excited for asparagus. Last years season seemed too short and I can't wait to through them on the barbeque.

ATH: What is your favourite food and wine pairing right now at the Wine Bar?

SV: We have some beautiful wines right now and our Sommelier, Richard Healy, does an amazing job pairing wines with my sometimes quirky and unusual food combinations. I would have to say my favorite all around pairing right now (the menu changes daily and the wine list every week) is Ameraucana Egg en Cocotte, Celeriac Puree, Truffle Oil paired with N.V. Jacquesson Cuvee 733 Champagne. It's the perfect classic pairing of dry bubbles to cut through the richness and decadence of the heritage breed egg and truffle oil. We also serve the dish with deep fried and house made English muffin (toy soldiers).

Thanks to Scott for taking the time to share with After the Harvest! If you're in Toronto, don't forget to stop by and enjoy The Wine Bar and Hank's, you can tell them I sent you ;)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tea and Health

photo credit: KnitStorm via Flickr

Recently I stopped drinking coffee. Why, you ask? Well I wasn't a huge coffee drinker to begin with; although I did enjoy the caffeine buzz and roasted, chocolatey taste some blends could provide in the morning, I decided it was time for a change. My decision was based on a desire to start making healthier daily choices when it comes to my food and drink consumption. Sounds sexy, right? Actually, yes. Health is sexy! I decided to switch to tea, and I am so glad I did! This doesn't mean I might not indulge in the odd cappuccino from time to time, after all, coffee does have its health benefits. According to Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic, "coffee may have benefits such as protecting against Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes and liver cancer". I just decided it was time to start drinking tea on a more regular basis, to enhance my overall health and explore new tea tastes.

So my "tea-only" adventure begins. I decided to start with the teas I already have on hand, and I am definitely looking forward to discovering new and different teas in the future. So far I've been enjoying the following: Japanese Sencha, Chai, Rooibos, Green Matcha and Green Mint.I'm not really that new to tea. My tea-ducation began when I was working at WholeFoods. Prior to that, tea for me meant Tetley with milk and honey, which is still tasty, but until I served loose leaf tea to the Yorkville elite, I never knew the plethora of teas that existed in the world. Every job teaches you something, and the education I received at Whole Foods was wonderful. We sold mainly Rishi teas and I have kept their information sheet all this time as it really breaks down the health benefits of different types of teas. I understand that this information is also provided to help sell Rishi tea, so I will go on record to say that I don't have any proof of these health claims, but I choose to accept them with blind faith. Here is what Rishi says about tea and health:

White Tea

  • contains cancer-fighting anti-oxidants
  • cooling and detoxifying
  • has the lowest content of caffeine found in all teas
  • anti-aging and anti-stress properties
  • high L-theanine amino acid content promotes longevity and concentration

Green Tea

  • highest content of cancer-fighting anti-oxidants
  • antiseptic and anti-viral effects: kills oral bacteria that can lead to colds and flu
  • fights degenerative diseases and supports immune system function
  • strengthens tooth enamel and fights bad breath
  • potent source of vitamins and minerals
  • effective for slimming and weight loss

Oolong Tea

  • high content of tea polysaccharides
  • lowers cholestorol and blood sugar
  • high content of anti-oxidants
  • strengthens tooth enamel
  • potent source of vitamins and minerals
  • effective for slimming and weight loss

Black Tea

  • heart health: black tea can help prevent heart attacks
  • helps prevent plaque build-up in arteries
  • increases bone density
  • oral health: kills bacteria in mouth that can cause cavities
  • fights bad breath

Pu-erh Tea

  • perhaps the most effective tea for slimming and weight loss
  • helps metabolize fatty acids and oily foods
  • believed to reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels
  • cleansing and detoxifying to the bloodstream

Other General Benefits

  • promotes mental clarity and alertness
  • stimulates neural activity and improves learning function
  • provides even, sustained energy and sound rest
  • much lower caffeine content than coffee
  • strengthens immune system and has anti-stress properties
  • cleansing, detoxifying and longevity promoting

For the record, I don't represent Rishi, I just really enjoy their teas, and I found that this bit of information was helpful for providing a quick look at how tea can improve or sustain one's health. I remember everyone going crazy for the Oolong teas and the Jasmine Silver Needle, but my favourites were Peach Blossom (white tea) and the Green Mint. And who can forget those delicious matcha lattes?

Once I go through my stock of tea, I'm looking forward to seeing what my local tea shops can offer. I am already happy to know that the local cafe sells Tealish's amazing looseleaf teas, so you know I'll be trying more of those. What are some of your favourite teas that I should try? I'm up for suggestions! And don't forget to read all about Tealish and their fabulous teas here!

To your health,

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Backyard Farmers and Urban Beekeepers

Photo via bleuquila on Flickr

These days I can't read my morning paper without seeing another article or letter about the movement towards raising backyard chickens here in Ottawa. I personally think it's a great idea, who wouldn't want to know that their animals were raised humanely and have fresh eggs right outside their door? Of course I would hope anyone interested in doing this is either already experienced with raising animals, or has enough passion and responsibility to go about the project in a responsible manner. Otherwise, let's leave it to the chicken farmers, provided that they raise hormone-free, humanely treated chicken, that is! That said, currently it is permissible by law to raise backyard chickens in some North American cities, but I understand a lot of cities across North America are still lobbying for this to be legal -- are you reading about it in your city?

It's not just chickens, either. New York City just passed a law that allows its citizens to raise honeybees on their property. It seems everything old is new again, and urban city-dwellers are hearkening back to simpler times, embracing the concept of growing their own vegetables, raising their own chickens or making their own honey. It's not just about a need to go back to simpler times, however I do see that as a need in our society; it's also about knowing that your food is chemical-free, naturally and humanely raised. It's a fascinating subject, and it will be interesting to see how many cities are successful in passing their laws. For a taste of urban beekeeping, check out this video of 3 Brooklyn residents who decided to make their own honey, even before it was legal -- I bet they are very happy about the recent legalization of honeybees.

Brooklyn's Urban Beekeepers: Breaking The Law For The Planet (Part I) from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Thanks to my buddy Carla for originally bringing this to my attention

So I ask you, what would you raise in your backyard? On your rooftop? I have created a new poll on After the Harvest to find out what you think! I suppose it depends how much land you have, but I am looking forward to hearing your responses and learning about this more! It's not just about vegetable gardening anymore!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Quick Taste: Banrock Station Unwooded Chardonnay

Wine: 2009 Banrock Station Unwooded Chardonnay, Good Earth Fine Wine

Look: clear,brilliant,light straw colour,light viscosity

Nose: grassy, lemon, honey, white flowers, pear

Palate: low acidity, fresh and light, citrus, pear and floral notes come over well

Price: $12.95 at the LCBO (Thanks, Andrea!)

Food Match: I think this wine would go really well with a white fish dish like sole or tilapia, but the first thing I thought of was fish tacos! Perhaps I'll share a recipe for those soon...

Overall: I really liked this wine. I have to admit that my purchase was partially influenced by the label, as part of the proceeds of this wine's sales go to supporting environmental projects around the world -- thus the "Good Earth" moniker. You can read more about Banrock Station's commitment to the environment on their website, where I noticed that they are supporting many wildlife-based programs in Canada!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Homemade Mayo!

I decided to make my own mayonnaise today. I was inspired in part by the recipe in my Earth to Table book, and partly by the delicious Rideau Rye bread on my counter that was just screaming to be made into a sandwich. The recipe is fairly simple, it just requires a lot of whisking and a bit of patience as you drizzle the oil in gradually. Rather than repeat the recipe verbatim, I'll let the photos tell the story, although I can't resist a few captions...

I wished I had a higher quality mustard...I would have used Maille.

Much more whisking followed this stage in order to create the right consistency.

I'm happy to report that the mayo was delicious! I think I need to try it with some homemade french fries next...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pairing Wine with Music

This morning as I was flipping channels, I landed on a segment on The Today Show about pairing wine with music. I decided to withstand Al Roker's cheesy jokes for a few minutes to see what restaurateur Joe Bastianich had to say about the topic. This is actually an idea that I've been thinking about posting on After the Harvest anyhow, so now is as good a time as any. So without further ado, I bring you my wine and music pairings:

Music: Anything You Want - Jason Mraz
Wine: Viognier
Description: With its tropical fruit aromas and exotic taste of honeysuckle, Viognier is a great choice to sip while enjoying any reggae-infused music. Floral and rich, it's a a great wine for a summer night and it can transport you to the islands with its fruity nature.

This is an extended version as he introduces the band...

Music: The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn - Alison Krauss & Union Station
Wine: Pinot Noir
Description: Just like any type of country music with its deep roots and honest stories, Pinot Noir is rich in history, earthy and easy-drinking. Cherry, violet, mushroom and cinnamon can all be detected in this varietal, which is also often described as having a bouquet of "barnyard". Now that's country.

  This one's quite long, but worth the listen!

Music: If You Don't Wanna Love Me - James Morrison
Wine: Syrah
Description: Deep and soulful, listening to a great blues voice is much like enjoying a glass of Syrah. Intense and rich, with dark fruit flavours and aromas of damp earth, leather and spice; Syrah is a rugged wine with a sense drama.

Music: Chelsea Morning - Joni Mitchell
Wine: Riesling
Description: Light and crisp, this wine is a great summer beverage and pairs well with vibrant melodies and lively acoustic guitars. A great mix of sweet and tart from notes of apple, stone fruit and melon flavours.

Music: "Born to Run" - Bruce Springsteen
Wine: Cabernet Sauvignon
Description: Rich and complex, this wine gets better with age. Aromas such as cassis, blackberry and plum are common in Cabernet, but this wine can also have some complex secondary aromas such as cedar, leather and eucalyptus. All of these aromas meld together over time, making this wine smooth and rich after some barrel and bottle aging. The Boss also gets better with age...

Now of course, these song choices were highly biased, as many of these musicians are favourites of mine -- but I hope you enjoyed them as well! If you'd like to see more of these types of pairings, let me know and I'll match a wine to your favourite song! So, this weekend why not test out some of these pairings? Crank it to eleven and crack open that bottle :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What I'm Going to be Reading...

Hello everyone! Usually I run a segment called What I'm Reading, in which I share my passion and analysis of a food-related book. Well, this time I have not actually read the book yet, but I intend to and when I do I will definitely share my views on the subject. The book I intend to read is: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Like I've said before, I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan, but I do care about what I put into my body, and I enjoy learning about food from all angles. From what I have read about this book so far, it is not a book designed to turn everyone vegan, although it does support a vegetarian or vegan approach to eating, if that is a lifestyle someone wishes to choose. From my perspective, it seems the author wrote this book in order to open a discussion and to open our eyes to how some animals are being treated before they end up on our dinner table. Whether or not you eat meat, I think we would all agree that treating animals poorly is not something that any of us supports. So I look forward to delving into this book -- I hope I can find it at my local library! Stay tuned to learn more about this book -- hey, why don't you read it along with me?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wine Gadgets

You know you're a wine geek get excited about new wine gadgets! I recently received a couple of interesting wine accessories and I thought I'd try them out. The first is a wine spout from Malivoire that I must have picked up at a wine show, so I thought I'd see how it works. I noticed on the packaging that it said "Waste Not".

Was this meant to tell us to reuse the wine spout? It seems to be made of a shiny silver paper, and I did wash it off for future use. However, I thought to myself, "It would be less of a waste if you just bought an actual wine spout, no?"

Then I thought, perhaps the "waste not" slogan was meant to convey that you won't waste a drop if you use this custom wine spout. Whatever the intended message was, I tried it out and it poured really well. So well it didn't waste a drop. I suppose it was merely a marketing idea for something interactive to take home and remember Malivoire wine.

The second gadget I received from a friend,and it's called Genie in a Bottle. It's essentially a wine stopper, but it is supposed to fit any sized bottle, and it's in the form of a cute genie! Who doesn't love that?

The genie fit nicely in the bottle, and is definitely a cute party favour! Have you found any interesting wine gadgets lately?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Quick Taste: Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon

Wine: 2008 Caliterra Reserva -- Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon; Colchagua, Chile
13.5% alcohol

Look: deep, black cherry/purple, medium viscosity

Nose: plum, cassis, tobacco, vanilla

Palate: mild tannins, high acidity, medium alcohol, medium finish, fruit comes over well, not too overpowering, very smooth.

Price: $8.95 from LCBO

Food match: this wine would go really well with some rich, creamy cheese such as Riopelle.

Overall: Especially considering the price, I thought this wine was quite good, smooth and just fruity enough. I also felt good choosing a Chilean wine to try to do my part to support the industry's losses due to the recent earthquake. Go out and get a bottle of Chilean wine and help them recover if you can!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Beautiful Mess: Jason Mraz's Chocomole Recipe

For some of you, Jason Mraz is just that guy with the hat that sings the happy little hippie song. Well let me tell you, from where I sit, he's a man of many talents. His music is great, his dance moves funky and his voice sublime...but is his chocolate pudding tasty?

I set out to discover if Jason Mraz's chocomole recipe could tempt my tastebuds. Known not just for his musical talents but also for his passion for surfing, raw food lifestyle and avocado farm, Jason shares many aspects of his life through his blog, Freshness Factor Five Thousand. It was through reading his blog that I, along with countless others, discovered his recipe for chocomole, which is basically a raw foodist's chocolate pudding made largely from avocados.

Mraz makes a point of promoting conscious food choices, focusing on whole foods and a raw food approach to nutrition. Judging by his apparent energy and healthy mindset, I think this raw food thing is working for him. Did I mention he is also a pretty talented writer and the man sings opera? I'm telling you, the renaissance man is the thing these days. In order to be a renaissance man or woman, you definitely need to know how to cook, or prepare raw food, in this case. You can see Jason's original post on chocomole here, but I'll give you a quick rundown:


  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 20 dates
  • 2 tbsp. raw cacao
  • 2 tbsp. or so Agave nectar
  • 1 tbsp. coconut oil
  • splash of vanilla extract

I followed Jason's directions and halved the avocados, saving the shells for a unique serving dish:

I then mushed up the avocados as much as I could:

The next step was adding all of the other ingredients:

After a lot of mixing and literally pulverising the dates, I had my finished chocomole! I chose to garnish my completed dessert with a playful almond, in place of the avocado pit -- so clever, I know ;)

Although I may seem biased, I cannot lie -- the chocomole was delicious!! A perfect blend of chocolate, coconut and dates! It was rich and heavenly, and I am sure with a lot of heavy mixing you could fool anyone into thinking this chocolate pudding involved sugar and eggs. Also, this dessert provided added value, actually giving me a "chocolate energy high" -- not just a sugar high where I crashed shortly after -- I actually had so much energy I had trouble drifting off to dreamland.

If you want to know more about Jason's views on healthy eating, you can check out this portion of an interview that was conducted by my pal Chris, on a little site we both belong to called Superforest.

So, I leave you with chocolate envy, and a little glimpse of Jason's unbelievable live DVD: A Beautiful Mess Live on Earth. Happy eating, everyone!

*photo of Jason respectfully borrowed from Bill Silva Entertainment

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Vegan Cheese Adventure Part 1

Why would I want to eat vegan cheese? Well, I guess you could say it's part empathy, part curiosity. In the past year or so, two of my friends visited Naturopathic Doctors and underwent detailed analyses with respect to the foods they eat and how those foods affect their health and well-being. As a result, they often had to cut certain foods out of their diets for weeks at a time in order for the doctor to properly diagnose them. One of those foods was cheese.

Can you imagine?

No cheese for 6 weeks or more? I literally can't stomach the thought.

But, just for fun I thought I'd see what it's like to feel like you're eating cheese, without actually eating it.

I do have to add a little disclaimer here, this post is not meant to offend any vegans or to take their choices and beliefs lightly. I am extremely interested in vegan foods and I want to learn more about how they might be healthy additions to my non-vegan lifestyle.

So, this is Part 1 of 2 in my vegan cheese adventure where I attempt to make something that resembles mac & cheese. The vegan cheese I'll be using is called Vegan Gourmet Mozzarella from a company called Earth Island. It melts!

I'm all about experimental cooking, so I decided to add some other ingredients to my mac & cheese. I decided on tomatoes for acidity, wild mushrooms for rich earthiness and I cheated by using a little butter (therefore, not a vegan dish, per se). I also realized I didn't actually have any macaroni, so I went with spaghetti noodles.

First, I had to reconstitute my wild mushroom mix from Forbes Wild Foods. Soaking them in warm water for about 15 minutes seemed to do the trick.

As I was boiling the water for the pasta, I cut up the vegan cheese (I used half of the block). As soon as I took it out of the package, it felt like tofu, which makes sense since it is a soy product. Because of this, I decided the grater probably wouldn't do the trick so I decided to cut it into small cubes.

While the pasta was cooking, I sauteed the tomatoes and mushrooms with some olive oil, a pat of butter and some salt and pepper.

When the pasta was ready, I added it to the sauteed tomatoes and mushrooms and mixed. Then it was time for the vegan cheese to join the party, so in it went. After quite a few vigorous stirs, the cheese melted about 85% and I had my very own dish using vegan cheese.

In the end, it tasted quite good and had the consistency of melted cheese. There was a slight aftertaste that you don't get with actual mozzarella, but it went away quickly. I think the success of the dish was due in large part to the mushrooms, however, so I can't completely say I took the plunge with vegan cheese (yet)!

This recipe made 2 servings. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I try to pair this vegan cheese with wine -- wish me luck!