Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Meals in the Field

One of my best memories growing up was taking meals to the field during harvest for my dad and uncles.  We would cook a full hot meal, box it up in the pots and take it to the field for the men.  If we were lucky we would get to do a few rounds in the combine or truck.  Then we would sit in the back of the half ton and eat with all of the men.  When they were finished we would head back home, and do all of the dishes - no eating off of paper plates!  Then around 11:00 we would go back out to the field with tea and cinnamon toast.  Those were the days when the wife's were there to run to town for parts, look after the children and make sure the men were fed.  Now a days the women are doing all of those things along with running a combine, swather or truck part time.  That doesn't leave a lot time for cooking.

There is a new program being sponsored by one of the local banks in Alberta and a meat company called Meals in the Field.  The concept is similar to Meals on Wheels for older people that have difficulty cooking for themselves, but it is for farmers.  You can nominate a farmer and if they are selected the volunteers from the radio station, bank and meat company show up at your field with a BBQ, and all of the fixings for a meal for 15 people.  This is going to happen once a week throughout September. 

This got me to thinking.  Maybe our urban friends or acreage neighbors would like to adopt a farm family for harvest.  You could arrange a night to cook for the harvest crew and take the meal out to them.  It would be a great time to learn about the crops and how the harvest is coming along.  I know that it would be appreciated.  Good luck to everyone with harvest.  Let's hope there is a Indian Summer for us this year.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

100 Mile Food Challenge

Last night we were channel surfing - you can always tell when summer is here by the  low choices of quality TV. When we came across the show 100 Mile Food Challenge on the Food Network.  This may have been a rerun, but the concept was very interesting.  For 100 days the city of Mission, BC took the challenge to only eat foods that were grown and produced within 100 miles of their municipality.  Sounds easy right?  Then they showed the residents cleaning out their refrigerators and pantry's.  They meant everything that wasn't local.  Salt, soy sauce, ketchup, pepper etc.  Now the goals for this project were to bring an awareness of the food that is available to residents produced by local farmers and to have people eating less packaged food from other countries. 

I started to think about what I would eat on a daily basis, if I was to only buy from local farmers.  I know there would be a great supply of beef, pork, chicken, eggs, potatoes on a regular basis.  For our vegetables there is several Farmers Markets and the local Hutterite colony.  I would probably have to take more time preparing meals and shopping.  The real challenge for me would be the spices, and staples - salt, flour, sugar.  The mayor of the city was one of the families highlighted.  He had to change his drinking habits too - only locally produced wine and beer.  No Vodka from Russia and even Whiskey that was Canadian was off the list.  The one item that affected almost every household was coffee and tea.

Our local county started a project last year called the  100K Kitchen Party.  Based on the 100 mile diet philosophy the 100K Kitchen Party takes the Canadian spin on it. All components of the project are based on utilizing the foods grown within a 100K radius of Drayton Valley, this takes in portions of the Counties of Parkland, Yellowhead, Woodlands, Lac St. Anne, Clearwater, Leduc, Wetaskiwin, and Ponoka.

The 100K Kitchen Party is looking to the past to preserve our future, here are some of the reasons why.  As the agriculture industry faces the trials and tribulations of the global economy, we are seeing more farmers retiring and the Ag parcels getting smaller and smaller. There is an opportunity for the agriculture industry to capitalize on the growing demand for locally produced foods that have not been treated with pesticides and chemicals so that they can be transported from far away. Between health concerns, concerns regarding carbon emissions used to transport the foods, and our awareness of our global dependence in this shaky economy, people are starting to remember the old days where the food you bought was from your neighbor, and you or someone you trusted processed it. There were no scares of listeria or melamine years ago, there weren't the allergies and reactions either - people are catching on and the 100 Mile Diet is taking off, this is an opportunity for our agriculture community to remain doing what they love to do and to profit by it.  The 100K Kitchen Party is sustainable in the triple bottom line of economics, environment and social. It is a huge 3 year project, that includes:
  • Traditional Food Processing
  • International Food Processing
  • Eat Local Program
  • Food Processing Cooperative
  •  100K Map
I'm not sure I am up for eliminating all food from our diet that isn't local, but trying to only eat Canadian for a while seems manageable.  Could you be successful at the 100 Mile Food Challenge?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Quality Foods

This past weeked, we attended the Saunders Family Reunion.  This reunion was started 30 years ago for Rob's mom's side of the family.  It is held every 3 years and alternates between Alberta and B.C.  This year is was held at Qualicum Beach, on Vancouver Island. 

True to form, within hours of arriving on the Island, we made our way to the local grocery store, Quality Foods.  They are an independent chain, serving Vancouver Island   We were looking for a few snacks for the weekend and items to contribute to the family supper that evening.  The official reunion started Saturday morning.  We headed straight for the meat counter to pick up a few steaks.  Our first choice was a package of strip loins @  $7.50 lb.  The choices they had at the meat counter were one of the best we have ever seen.  On our way to the till we came across a display for Flat Iron Steaks.  We have often found these on restaurant menus but not available at the local grocery store.  A package that fed four of us sold for $8.25.    Now if you have never heard of a Flat Iron, here is the background on this very tender, flavorful and inexpensive cut of beef.

"The Flat Iron Steak (also know as a Top Blade Steak), now appearing in grocery stores and on restaurant menus was developed by teams at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida. The problem that presented these researchers of the cow was what to do with a waste cut of beef from the shoulder of the cow. Though a flavorful and relatively tender cut of meat, the top blade roast has a serious flaw in the middle of it; an impossibly tough piece of connective tissue running through the middle.

So, after developing a method for cutting and presenting this steak, these friendly scientists have presented to us an amazing cut of beef. More than that, they have developed a nearly perfect steak for the grill. The Flat Iron (supposedly named because it looks like an old fashioned metal flat iron) is uniform in thickness and rectangular in shape. The only variation is the cut into the middle of the steak where the connective tissues have been removed.

Like any non-loin steak, the Flat Iron benefits from marinating and is best if it isn't cooked too well beyond medium. Depending on the particular cut you pick up you might find it more convenient to cut the Flat Iron steak in half because of the center cut through the middle.

This steak has a deep, rich flavor which makes it perfect not only on its own, but also as meat for many dishes. The Flat Iron is very similar to any of the Flat Steaks so anything calling for Skirt or Flank Steak will benefit from a Flat Iron Steak. This steak is best grilled over a medium high heat.

If your butcher stares blankly at you when you ask for a Flat Iron steak, it might not be because he’s a bad butcher. It might be that this particular cut (or actually this particular name) hasn't caught on in your neck of the woods. Instead ask for a Top Blade Steak. But definitely track one down and give it a try. You might just find your perfect steak."

It was a great way to start the weekend.  The next night we followed it up with a baseball cut of steak from the Cactus Club with fresh Halibut and Salmon.  A great meal to Celebrate International World Food Day.