Stalking green dragon babies: my love affair with fiddleheads

Stalking green dragon babies: my love affair with fiddleheads

For Maritimers, May means the beautiful and widely-anticipated unfurling of the ostrich fern, otherwise known as the fiddlehead, whose name accurately reflects the shape of that musical instrument.

Especially renowned in New Brunswick, along the banks of the Saint John river, but actually found throughout the Maritimes and New England, these bright green gems like to hide themselves in wet and wild places, making them a forager’s delightful surprise discovery. Once discovered, like their springtime companion, the mayflower, foragers keep tight-lipped about their whereabouts. “Where’s your patch?” is a question you should never ask if you are a dinner guest at a forager’s house and happen to find fiddleheads nestled on your plate.

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How to enjoy rhubarb season: some lore and two recipes

How to enjoy rhubarb season: some lore and two recipes

If you’re a seasonal eater here on the perpetually soggy East Coast, spring means three things: fiddleheads, asparagus, and rhubarb.

I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks singing the praises of each member of this marvellous trio in turn, mainly in the form of favourite recipes. I’ll start with the ‘barb since it’s the only one that’s visible in my garden right now.

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How the underground barter economy is transforming the ways we connect

The Facebook-based trading phenomenon with the dubious name Bunz was unknown to me until a couple of weeks ago when its local chapter turned up in my newsfeed. A network with dozens of chapters, like its close cousin, Freecycle, the Halifax Bunz has 8000 local members and is growing weekly. Clearly, this is an idea whose time has come.

I’ve long been a fan of what might be called alternative currencies, and I’ve often bartered goods and services with friends and acquaintances. Bunz takes this bartering to a whole new level. It’s different from other online classified ad sites like Kijiji or the “buy and sell” pages of Facebook in that it uses currencies other than cash. You can trade your unworn yoga tops for bus tickets, postage stamps, a haircut, or coffee beans, but not a $10 bill. Members simply post photos and descriptions of what they want to trade and indicate what they’d like to receive in return (a so-called ISO, or “in search of” list). As one might expect, there’s a fair bit of junk to sort through, as well as the occasional gem. You’re also not allowed to trade anything illegal.  

It’s easy to think of times when Bunz could come in handy: the post-Christmas letdown as you face a pile of items you didn’t need or want. Your kid jumped a clothing size in just a few weeks, leaving you scrambling for bigger clothes and eager to dump the outgrown set. Your cabinets are bulging with products you never used, but don’t want to just throw away. If you have a spare couple of hours with Bunz, you can clear your skirts of many of these items and make someone else’s day in the process.

A number of people seem keen to trade stuff for food, especially of the home-cooked variety, specifying wine, preserves, baked goods, and meals. Others would like to receive the raw ingredients for their own meals and baking; I’ve seen requests for bananas, root veggies, tinned tomatoes, and flour, among many others. The ubiquity of these requests indicates the value placed on food in the world of barter. No doubt this is an indicator of hard economic times as much as an expression of enjoyment in handmade comfort food; it makes me sad to see the single moms bartering their clothes and household goods for lunch and snack items for their kids.

The happy side effect of a site such as this is the sense of community created by Bunz traders: when a young mom posted a plea for help restocking her larder after losing $100 in grocery money, she was flooded with support.

So was the person who posted a request for a friendly listener when she was facing a mental health crisis. It was touching to read the many comforting replies, gestures of solidarity, and practical advice.

In a society where care for one another is increasingly commodified and de-personalized, the “Bunz effect” is especially gratifying to witness.

I suppose there is always the potential for unfair trades, for those who lie about or exaggerating their life circumstances in order to get the better deal. Still, the generosity I’ve witnessed on Bunz and the grateful thank-you photos some happy traders have posted of their kid riding his “new” skateboard, or the young woman delightedly showing off the boots that pinched the previous owner’s feet make me a believer in its value.

 

Some recent media coverage of Bunz: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/programs/metromorning/bunz-trading-zone-post-christmas-surge-1.3919079

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/bunz-trading-zone-montreal-trade-barter-1.3386855

How to escape from modern life for a few blissful hours: read a 1970s cookbook!

How to escape from modern life for a few blissful hours: read a 1970s cookbook!

Our house is not blessed with an abundance of shelf space, and so we must choose our books wisely. I’m pretty assiduous with the yearly weeding out of already-read or unloved volumes, but there is one group of books I would be hard-pressed to part with: my collection of 1970s cookbooks.

Grease-stained and dog-eared, to me they are the perfect escapist literature: a blend of the practical, the comforting, the beautifully illustrated, and the sometimes bizarre. Sure, the dishes they describe can be fussy and time-consuming. I know there are many recipes in there that I will never, ever make. I still love reading them, and when I lack a good novel to lose myself in, I will often pull out a favourite cookbook so I can be transported back to my favourite decade of them all.

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“I don’t eat that”: confronting our food neuroses

“I don’t eat that”: confronting our food neuroses

I’m going to sound about a thousand years old—and not a little intolerant—when I admit my fondness for two venerable alimentary maxims: “Eat what’s set before you” and “Clean your plate.” More specifically, I’m attracted to the straightforward, can-do spirit animating this approach to feeding ourselves, a spirit that is totally lacking at today’s dinner table.

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The Joy of Grease: How to make soap out of what's sitting in that soup can on the back of your stove

The Joy of Grease: How to make soap out of what's sitting in that soup can on the back of your stove

There's a tin can on our kitchen counter that no one goes near, filled with congealed bacon grease. It's been collecting for months, and I really don't know what to do with it. Except I DO know and just haven't gotten around to trying what everyone alive in any century prior to ours would have done: make soap from scratch.

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7 Ideas for a March Break Foodie Staycation

7 Ideas for a March Break Foodie Staycation

March Break starts on the 13th, and parents who forgot to register for day camp are now racking their brains for ways to keep the kids happily occupied all week. Here on the East Coast, we had a dress rehearsal for the break in mid-February when a winter’s worth of snow got dumped on us over several days, cancelling school and releasing an avalanche of “What are we doing today?” heard across the region. We should therefore be ready for the real break… but are we?

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How our family saves hundreds of litres of water a year with a bucket, some garden hose, and a few $20.00 hardware attachments (happy World Water Day, Mother Earth!)

How our family saves hundreds of litres of water a year with a bucket, some garden hose, and a few $20.00 hardware attachments (happy World Water Day, Mother Earth!)

World Water Day, March 22, is an excellent time to reflect on how much our survival as a species is connected to the fate of this precious resource.

Water is threatened on all sides by pollution, privatization, and industrial and domestic overuse, yet we often treat it as though it were a limitless commodity, a kind of earth-abuse that will come back to haunt us and our descendants for years to come.

Wanting to shrink our ungainly eco-footprint with respect to water, my family has been able to reduce its water intake to about one-quarter of the Canadian national average. Between October of 2015 and October 2016, our most recent annual water billing period, we have averaged around 250 litres per day--in our household of three people, or just over 80 litres per person per day (by comparison, a March 18, 2009 National Post story states the average single Canadian and American uses about 340 litres per day).

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What I Learned Making Food From Seven "Banned" Countries

What I Learned Making Food From Seven "Banned" Countries

This past holiday Monday, I and a group of friends and family held a fundraising dinnerat my son's school in support of two organizations supporting human rights and immigrant settlement in our community. Our goal was to make a dish from each of the seven countries on the current US travel ban (Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Syria and Libya).

I'm happy to report that we sold all 50 tickets to the event, and raised over $1000.00 in support of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia.

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How To Fight Food Waste

How To Fight Food Waste

Last week, I attended a roundtable discussion on the topic of food waste, one of the great shames of modern life. Every year, 28% of the food produced worldwide is wasted; the land mass needed to grow that amount of food would cover China and Mongolia. Worse still, much of the food we throw away will end up in a landfill rather than as beneficial compost (except in fortunate municipalities where composting is mandated). A whopping 47% of wasted food occurs after purchase, which means we consumers are responsible for the bulk of tossed edible items, some of which are still perfectly safe to eat.

This needs to change.

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How we choose inflammation as a way of life

How we choose inflammation as a way of life

...A whole lot of “news” is inaccurate, urgently negative, and/or horrific, much like the ingredients in processed food, and many of us feel torn between our desire to remain well-informed about current events and our need to maintain our emotional equilibrium. This is not a selfish impulse—if we are flattened by despair, how can we act to better our world? There’s a reason airline passengers with dependents are instructed to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others with theirs, in the event of emergency.

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4 favourite children’s books about food and cold weather

4 favourite children’s books about food and cold weather

There are some books that seem to provide us with the warmth we need when the temperature drops outside, often in the form of memorable descriptions of food. I often search the bookshelves for them in the winter, especially on snow days, which provide the perfect backdrop for a cozy read-aloud with a child. Here are a few favorites to look for on your own snow-day trip to the library or bookstore:

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How To Make Healthy School Lunches Daily Without Losing Your Mind

How To Make Healthy School Lunches Daily Without Losing Your Mind

When my kid started school this fall, I came face to face with a challenge experienced by all parents of young, school-aged children: what the heck am I supposed to give him/her for lunch every day?

As with many first-world parenting issues, this one should really be no big deal. So why is it many of my parent acquaintances find themselves rummaging through their cupboards at 7 a.m. on a Monday morning, searching for snack crackers through clenched teeth while their offspring whine, “Are you giving me celery sticks AGAIN?”

I remember primary orientation day at school mostly for the terrifying directive given by our son’s friendly and well-organized young teacher: “Please send a healthy lunch and two healthy snacks to school every day in non-disposable containers. We want to reduce waste as much as possible, so no juice boxes or other packaging. And no sweets.”

I quickly realized how spoiled we had become during our kid’s preschool years, with its supplied lunches and snacks; back then, I barely registered what he ate between breakfast and supper since his food needs were being so seamlessly attended to.

It was the dawn of an uncomfortable new era.

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I Wrote A Book!

I Wrote A Book!

If you know me, you know that I have a kid who hates public toilets. They're loud, unpredictable, and ubiquitous; try going on a trip without visiting one (sadly, we have).

With my five-year-old's aversion showing no signs of abating, I decided to write a children's book about a public toilet that swallowed a swimming pool, to help us all laugh about his dislike. It's called The Big Flush, and I get my first look at its printed self next week!

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The Things That Make Christmas

The Things That Make Christmas

They’re the things we keep carefully wrapped and stored away all year in basements and attics.

They once belonged to our parents, grandparents, or us when we were tiny; though battered and aged, these objects glow with the luminescence of decades’ worth of Christmas memories. They are our time capsules, instantly transporting us back a generation or more to our childhood when we waited breathlessly, sleeplessly for Santa to arrive.

The stories attached to Christmas objects are part of their hold on us. Here are three of mine:

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In Praise of Slow

In Praise of Slow

In my twenties, I was a Master’s student in the University of Toronto’s Medieval Studies program (having realized the intense market demand for medievalists—ha!).

I discovered that I studied at the same library that housed a truly ambitious project, the Dictionary of Old English, which was in the process of documenting every known use of every word in the Old English language for future generations of scholars.  Like medieval monastics, the compilers of the dictionary gathered in their scriptorium atop U of T’s flagship Robarts Library and laboured for hours, sifting through obscure texts that most people have never heard of, in search of words. When I graduated in the spring of 2000, the project, begun nearly twenty years previously, had just published the letter E.

Two weeks ago, a friend sent me a notification that the dictionary committee was pleased to present its latest published letter: H.

Sixteen years; two letters.

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How To Eat Well Without Going To The Grocery Store

How To Eat Well Without Going To The Grocery Store

Think of your last trip to the grocery store.

Likely you managed to find your way through the labyrinth of ever-migrating foodstuffs, housewares, and promotional sales, only to find yourself stuck in a lengthy line at the checkout with a few vocally disgruntled kids and frazzled parents.

What if you could go for weeks between visits to the grocery store?

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Localternatives

Localternatives

You don’t need to be a locavore or a penny-pincher to appreciate the value of “found” food, that is, food we can find growing in our very own backyard. Eating what comes readily to hand in our home environment has several benefits: we lower our reliance on imported foods and their associated large carbon footprint, and we indirectly develop our resiliency and ingenuity by searching out locally available alternatives. We also save a bit of money in the process.

I’ve made a short list of some delicious alternatives to imported everyday food and drink. I’ve tried them myself and can vouch for no feeling of deprivation afterwards! Here they are...

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Cooking with wood

Cooking with wood

“I pity the fool who doesn’t have a woodstove,” reads the Facebook status update of a smug friend sitting in front of a roaring fire in the middle of a blizzard last winter.

I’ve often told not-so-lucky friends that they are welcome to come enjoy the warmth of our own woodstove any time there’s a cold snap or power outage; the offer comes along with an invitation to bring over whatever papers they want to see go up in flames--ancient Visa statements and bad teenage poetry come to mind--and to be ready to split kindling!

The beauty of a woodstove is many-fold: that ancient feeling of comfort and security that our ancestors must have felt when they gathered around their fires, the chance to use a (theoretically) renewable local resource, and of course, that warm and fuzzy multitasking feeling of cooking on the same surface that’s heating your house!

 

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