Thursday, June 5, 2008

Canada's National Hunger Awareness Day

Today marks the Candian Association of Food Banks' National Hunger Awareness Day - a day to put the spot light on hunger issues not around the world - but right in our own back yard.

730,000 Canadians access food banks each month in Canada, with about 40% of these people children. Canadian food banks are typically run by volunteers, recieve food and cash supplies by donation, and typically experience severe shortages of food between Easter and November.

Locally, food banks provide food for 9,000 people per week in the Greater Vancouver Area, while also supplying food to 100 affiliated social agencies. Through 16 depots, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank processes over 8 million pounds of food a year.

Food banks have become one of the most important sources of food for people in need in Canada - and food banks recieve no government funding.

As someone who has accessed food bank services in the past I know the desperation and humilation of those who come looking in need. I also know the appreciation, the incredible intense graditude one experiences when on the reciving end.

While donations of food are always appreciated, cash donations are very important to the food bank - it allows them to provide the hungry with perishable goods, such as milk, eggs, fruit & vegetables and baby products.

Click here for more information about how to donate to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. Or contact a food bank in your area. If you are interested in a more co-ordinated effort, consider signing your work place up this summer for the "Lunch Money Campaign".

It's easy to blog about food and diet choices when you are fortunate enough to choose what it is you do or do not eat. As much as living where I do makes that a reality which is difficult to ignore, this is an important reminder. It's not just those of us who are on the streets or people in Africa who are hungry. Hunger lives in our own backyard.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Restaraunt Review - Gorilla Food

As much as I have issues with using the terms 'vegan' and 'vegetarian' due to the assumptions people make about such labels, lifestyle choices, desired consumption of food, I know that any funny looks the use of such words to describe myself might solicit would be utterly mild in comparison to using the term 'raw foodist'. If veganism is on the fringes of mainstream - baffling to most people but understood in theory by many - rawfood sits in the stratosphere of the simply bizarre. And I admit, I've been one of the ones who thought, 'Rawfood only? What the....!??'

That being said, with the recent changes in my diet (I never thought I'd be cooking/baking almost primarily vegan food at home), in the spirit of shrugging off labels and searching for delicious healthy cuisine, my curiosity surrounding raw food diets has piqued. And I'm not talking about salad. It's dishes such as rawfood pasta (derived from zucchinis, or butternut squash), and rawfood baked goods ("baked" at 108 degrees f) that get me curious. I can accept that it's very healthy and good for your body. What I've always wondered though, is whether or not it tastes good.

Enter Gorilla Food. Blink and you might miss both of the locations on Richards street between Pender and Hastings. I first noticed their take away window a few weeks ago when strolling by on my way home from work, and have been curious ever since. After all, it's not often that you see the words, "Vegan, Organic, & Raw" associated with takeaway food. I'd been meaning to go back since seeing it, and the discovery of a coupon in my GreenZebra book sealed the deal.

I set out with Stephen yesterday afternoon, headed in the direction of the takeaway window, only to discover a sign pointing us in the direction of their newly opened seated restaraunt, only a few doors up. We ventured down some stairs, into small well lit joint with great music (reggae, hip hop, Jack Johnson) and beautiful but simple design - simple natural looking materials, art on the walls, great lighting.

We ordered 3 dishes - Thai Wraps to start, Pesto Pizza, and Zucchini Linguine with Cashew Alfredo Sauce. Our coupon got us a free juice, smoothie, or shake of our choice. We chose the Strawberry Zing. And of course, we had to photograph the event...

The wraps came first - and they were amazing. Veggie pate and coleslaw wrapped in crunchy kale leaves with a subtly spicy and not too sweet raisin chutney. Perfect texture, surprisingly fresh flavors. Not what you would expect based on the name and description on the menu - but in no way disappointing, which had us feeling very optimistic on the main courses...

The pasta was incredible. The texture of the 'zucchini noodles' was bang on, and the accompanying salad came with a deliciously creamy avocado ginger dressing. The pizza was interesting - a sprouted seed dehydrated crust, topped with tomato sauce, pesto, and walnut crumble 'cheez'. I personally found it delicious - but Stephen disagreed. He didn't like the taste of the uncooked tomato paste, and isn't a huge fan of walnuts. That being said, we did agree that the pesto was fantastic, and that all of the items on the menu held promise for things to come once the place is open long enough to allow the menu time to develop.

It was the type of place I could imagine crowded to standing room only while someone plays guitar and bangs on a djembe in the corner, candle lit and filled with the murmur of friendly conversation, while everyone sips on the fresh fruit and veggie drink of their choice. And while that may sound overly hippie and dreadlocked, the crowd we ate with at 4pm on a Saturday was both dreadlocked and fresh haired, and utterly unpretentious. A great place for an interesting date, to take an out of town-er, or to relax and enjoy an utterly healthy and delicious living food meal.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Richmond Night Market Opens Tonight.... Without Food???

The drama surrounding the 2008 Summer Night Market doesn't seem to end. After it was finally confirmed a week or so ago that all systems were go for the night market this year (albiet under a different operator, same site, blah blah), I was psyched to put my butt on a 98 B-Line this weekend and head out for some of the best asian eats in town.

That is, until the news broke today. Market operator Paul Cheung announced today that while the market will be opening this weekend as planned, that certain renovations for the 'food court' area were not yet complete. Renovations will apparently take a few more weeks, with the food vendors hoping to set up shop in late June/early July.

Me and the boyfriend, we're let down. We love this place. Heck, we really only go for the food. Who needs cheap sunglasses when there is cheap takoyaki and curry fish balls?

The upside? Perhaps this means that the downtown China Town Night Market will have better food vendors. Usually the food at the downtown market can't shake a stick at the food available in Richmond, but the vendors gotta sell their stuff somewhere. And, unlike with the Richmond Night Market, the ChinaTown location is just a few blocks from home...

China Town Night Market
Dates: 16th, May to 7th, Sep. 2008.
6:30-11:30 pm
Keefer St between Main & Columbia


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Eat!Vancouver - The Everything Food and Cooking Festival

The 6th annual Eat!Vancouver festival took place this past weekend, and like everyother food nerd in this city, I was there to get drunk take part in the festivities.

Truth be told, I'd never heard of the festival before and only found out about it a few days prior. Despite the beautiful warm weather, a boyfriend at work, and all known friends MIA, I grabbed a non-perisable food item for a discount at the door and wandered over to BC Place Stadium early Saturday morning.

Aside from a the media touted Food Network Celebrity Chef Demo stage, I didn't quite know what to expect other than standard convention stuff. And standard convention stuff there was. In bounds.

Many of the booths I had seen at another convention I atteneded earlier this year, and many of the booths seemed oddly out of place (I'm not sure why New Zealand Air was there, ditto for the barley derived cat litter company). There was all the things anyone should expect to see at a convention such as this - big food companies promoting whatever is meant to be popular, fad-dy, instant, or simply edible and marketable in the coming year... small food companies promoting whatever is meant to be unique, different, homemade or pretentious (the spicy chocolate wine sauce I tasted was *weird*)... vitamin and health supplement companies with aggressive sales people trying to convince anyone who will listen why their products work... various special interest for and non profit groups looking for recruits... the list goes on.

Despite the crowds, the bad samples of bad food (instant curry! instant pizza! vitamin water! liquid greens!) I managed to find the right booths, talk to the right people, and actually have a pretty good time.

I met a representative from Farm Folk/City Folk - an organization that I was already familiar with - who talked me into signing up for a membership. I had an incredibly long conversation with a represenative from edible Vancouver magazine, about taking a soft approach to local food issues and labelling 'foodie types', about resources available to those wishing to explore local food, and about writing about local food. I spoke with a girl from the SPCA about their Farm Certification Progam, the costs of becoming organic certified, and the options for farmers stuck in the dead zone of converting to organic. And, I bought a copy of GreenZebra.

Due to not having cable I was completely uninterested in the offerings of the celebrity chef stage, and the food pavillion didn't interest me either. Both of these items seem to be the main selling point of the festival for a lot of people, so unfortunately I cannot offer a complete review. It was incredibly interesting though. I do wish that it hadn't been as crowded - many of the booth operators I wanted to speak to were understandably too busy to have lengthly or in-depth conversations. As much as I was intersted in the event being a networking and learning experience for myself, I realise it is as much a money making and brand promoting event for many of the booths.

My favorite part - as with any convention - was the swag! The swag wasn't as good and plentiful as it was at The Wellness Show I attended a few months ago, but it was still awesome.

If nothing else, I got a lot of inspiration about things to blog about. There is a wealth of material in the pamphlets that I've get to go through, and I've already added a few companies and organizations websites to my bookmarks to go through more thoroughly at a later date. That and the free Zhu Jiang beer glass totally made the whole trip worth it.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Herbed Tofu Vegan Lasagne

Tonight's dinner - amazing melt in your mouth vegan lasagne. I never thought I'd say it, but I didn't even miss the cheese. The photo isn't exactly stunning but I'm a bit new to this whole concept of cooking food and then taking pictures of it. Clearly my homework is to learn about food photography.

But I digress! The dinner was fantastic - a recipe passed to me by a co-worker with a teenage vegan daughter. She's always trying to cook food that the whole family can eat, (the other two members of the family being a mid-growth spurt always hungry 15 year old and a 40 some guy's guy kind of dad)... and this is one of her success stories.

I was a bit skeptical going into it - I mean, lasagne, without cheese??? I've done pretty good with the no dairy thing so far, but generally that's meant eating dishes that don't require cheese. In my books, vegan or not, lasagne requires cheese. Well, until today when I started cooking this dinner my books got re-written. This meal was so good I'm not sure if I can go back to the greasy, heavy lasagne of old. My only complaint is that in my last minute shopping for ingredients I wasn't able to find rice pasta lasagne, so I had to go with plain old wheat noodles. And wheat doesn't really agree with me so much these days. Next time I'll be prepared. But this time... (and I may regret saying this later) ...any discomfort will be SO worth it.

Herbed Tofu Vegan Lasagne

To start this dish you need to have about 4 cups of marinara sauce on hand. You can use your own recipe - or if you'd like buy some in a jar from the store. I like this basic recipe as the flavors aren't too overwhelming, but it IS delicious enough that the leftovers will be frozen for use in future pasta dishes.

Basic Marinara Sauce

30 ounces stewed tomatoes (this was one large can from the store)
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or more to taste)
3 clove garlic, minced
3 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano (or one teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (or more to taste)
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 small finely diced onion
1/2 cup white wine
sugar to taste.

In a food processor blend canned tomatos, tomato paste, chopped parsley, minced garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth. In a large pot over medium heat saute the onion in olive oil for 2 minutes, until just soft. Add the white wine, and then 2 minutes later, the blended tomato sauce. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Adjust salt and pepper to taste. If you find the sauce is too acidic, I find it works well to add a small amount (about half a tablespoon) of soft brown sugar (regular white sugar or raw cane surgar works too).

While the sauce is simmering, it's good to get a head start on the lasagne:

2 14-oz. (350 g) pkg. firm tofu, well drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/3 cup pine nuts
4 cloves garlic, peeled
Juice 2 lemons
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 Tbs. olive oil
3 cups zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 medium portabello mushrooms, cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 cups marinara sauce
16 no-cook lasagna noodles (9 oz.)

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat 13x9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Gently toast your pine nuts in an ungreased pan on the stove, until golden brown. Set aside.

Gently break each block of tofu into 2 or 3 pieces, and mix in food processor with basil, parsley, pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, salt, red pepper flakes and sugar. If you are using a small food processor or have an immersian blender style processor like me, you may need to do this in a few batches. I did 2 seperate batches, and then combined it all in a bowl for a final bit of mixing.

Blend until smooth. The result should be a creamy ricotta cheese like texture, and will taste incredible. I debated adding some nutritional yeast at this point, but held off, wanting to stay true to the recipe. You may wish to add some at this point if you like. I definitely will next time.

Put oil, zucchini and mushroom in a pan. Sauté until just tender.

Spread 3 Tbs. marinara sauce over bottom of baking dish. Cover with layer of noodles, overlapping slightly, half of tofu mixture and half of zucchini mixture. Top with another layer of noodles, remaining tofu and zucchini, and 1/2 cup-1 cup of sauce. Finish with another layer of noodles and cover completely with sauce. (Don't feel compelled to use ALL the sauce you have, especially if you followed my marinara recipe above. This is a mistake I made).

Cover with foil, and bake 1 hour. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.



Sunday, May 25, 2008

Spicy Peanut Butter and Sweet Potato Stew

Photo credit: Johnson Cameraface's Flickr account.

When I got the idea to start this blog, one of the main concepts was to use it as a recipe catalog, so that my boyfriend could easily look through the tags and choose something for me to make for dinner on any given night, based on the ingredients handy.

I made this recipe a few months ago, and it became an instant favorite. Sweet, spicy, hearty and reminiscent of the type of home cooked meal I'd eat at someone else's house growing up. It's delicious, and best of all, vegan.

Spicy Peanut Butter and Sweet Potato

1 teaspoon oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced (or more if you are a garlic lover)
4 cups water or vegetable broth (feel free to use chicken or beef broth)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup chunky salsa (preferably a traditional sugar-free variety)
1 can garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained
1 cup diced zucchini
1/2 cup cooked rice (I used a blend of wild, brown, and black rice for added color and texture.)
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter or chunk peanut butter for added texture

Heat the oil in a large soup pot, and saute onion, sweet potato, and garlic until onion is soft. Cook low if needed to prevent burning.
Stir in the water or broth, thyme and cumin. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add zucchini and salsa. Simmer until zucchini and sweet potato are tender. (This took about 20 minutes).

Because I wanted a creamy texture, at this point I decided to blend everything with my immersion blender. You could also put it through a food processor... although this recipe would be equally delicious with out any blending.

Stir in garbanzo beans, the cooked rice and peanut butter until the peanut butter has dissolved. Serve hot. Add chopped unsalted peanuts as an added garnish if desired.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Food for Thought

If you've read 100 Mile Diet, you're aware of the issues surrounding the lack of locally grown grains in BC. An innovative group in Nelson has decided to do something about it, and bringing grains back to the west coast. Now, if only I could find something like this in Vancouver...

...At the Eat!Vancouver show this weekend at BC Place Stadium. I'll be there Saturday morning, and while I haven't yet decided which Celebrity Chef to check out, or which round of CTV's Master Chef show to take in, I'm willing to admit, I'm mainly going for the samples and the swag.

If that doesn't tickle your fancy, here's a list of 6 other food related events going on around town...

Meanwhile, Natives erm all of us face Salmon Shortages.

Could the GVRD finally get a compost waste processing facility?

A group in Victoria tries to kill two birds with one stone: By Sending the Homeless to Work on a farm. (This is actually a great idea btw...)

This one-ups those guys in Nelson... They may be trying to take part in a 100 mile diet, but this guy's got a zero mile diet. It actually makes me wish I lived in a place with a yard and not a teeny tiny condo.

Cause then I could take some time to stop and eat the roses.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Made In Canada? - Stephen Harper Announces Changes to Canada's Food Labelling Laws

Ok, so we all know how important (and trendy!) the concept of eating locally has become in the last 18 months or so. Not that eating locally is, or should be considered to be a new practice by any stretch of the imagination, but between the hype fear surrounding rising food costs, contaminated imports, and the global energy crisis, the concept of 'eating locally' has entered into the consumer mainstream. Even if we don't all practice it, we certainly have all heard about it.

I'm not sure how many people took notice then, to a story produced last fall by the The MarketPlace on CBC outlining a major deficiency in Canada's food labelling laws - products claiming to be 'Made in Canada' or 'Products of Canada' may actually be composed of food from anywhere other than, well, Canada.

Under the current laws, provided that 50% of the manufacturing or processing of a given food item takes place in Canada, the food can claim that it is a Product of Canada. Including apple juice made at a plant in Canada with apples from China, coffe roasted in Vancouver with beans from Kenya, fruit salad tinned in Toronto with fruit from anywhere warm enough to grow it... the list goes on. Virtually anything, provided it's packaged in the great white north can claim itself a product of the great white north. Which makes things really confusing if you are trying to step it up and eat locally.

Oddly forshadowed by a Globe and Mail article published earlier this month, yesterday's announcement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced sweeping changes to food labelling policies that will force producers to accurately to use labels to reflect the origins of the food involved, if they want to claim a product as Canadian.

Under the new legislation:

-To claim a foodstuff as a 'Product of Canada' all major ingredients, labour, to make a food product would have to actually be from or take place in Canada. The law does leave room for minor additives such as spices or perservatives that cannot be sourced in Canada.

-To claim a foodstuff as 'Made In Canada' food product would have to be manufactured or processed in Canada regardless of whether the ingredients are imported or domestic or both. Before "Made in Canada" could be used on a food product, the last substantial transformation of the product must have occurred in Canada and the claim would be qualified with either "Made in Canada from domestic and imported ingredients" or "Made in Canada from imported ingredients".

Of course the implementation of these changes won't be seen for some time.

According to the Prime Minster's own website, 'The government will hold consultations to get views from Canadians and stakeholders before finalizing the new food labelling guidelines. Canadians are invited to participate in this consultation by visiting or calling 1-800-442-2342.'

If you visit, there is a survey available for for people to respond to about their understanding of current food labelling and the new guidlines proposed to take effect. The survey is only online until June 11, and is fairly well hidden on the site. Here is a direct link.

A full document on the proposed changes can be found here. I haven't had a chance to read the full report yet, but I'm looking forward to it. This might be the single act Stephen Harper has made since coming into office that actually makes him out to be less of a douche. And of course, ultimatley anything that leads to a more empowered consumer is ulimately a gdood thing.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Speaking of Markets...

Photo credit: Uncleweed's Flikr account.

After more drama and speculation than necessary, it looks like the Richmond Night Market is finally all set to go for the 2008 summer season, opening in just 9 days on May 30th.

In a drama with more twists and turns than the season finale of Desperate Housewives (I've never actually seen the show...), the market will open this year on the same site, with a new operator.

After the previous operator bowed out, citing high operating costs and raising rents, a new operator has come forward, claiming he can run a bigger, better, safer market. Despite a pending lawsuit for copyright infringement (apprently the name 'Richmond Night Market' isn't generic enough...), sabotage of the market site, and push back from local city council, the permits were finally approved lasat night and all systems are go.

The obvious downer is the new operator's promise to police to crack down on counterfit goods (no more cheap sunglasses and $2 DVDs? Sadface!)... but I only really go for the food anyways. I'm drooling just thinking about it... mmmm... Takoyaki... Fried Squid... little Nutella filled puff balls... Yum!


Vancouver's Farmer's Market Season Kicks Off...

Photo credit: PoYang_博仰's Flickr accout.

Vancouver's Farmer's Markets summer season kicked off last week at the East Vancouver location at Trout Lake, with 3 other locations to follow in the next 10 days or so.

With all the hype about rising food prices at the supermarkets, eating locally, and the organic food movement, some are predicting that this may be the biggest season yet, in terms of both turn out and revenue.

Between my 3 weeks away in Paris, and the 5 weeks I may be busy working with Cirque, I'm not sure how often I'll be able to make it out. We already get fresh produce box delivered to our door biweekly, so we don't have much of a need, but it's always great to stroll the booths, check out the food, and enjoy the atmosphere. With any luck I'll be at Trout Lake this weekend. One can never have too many fresh local strawberries. Yum.

Also for the cyclists out there:

June 1st is the Kitsilano market's Bike to the Market Day, with booths, information, and treats available for cyclists. There will be another one at Trout Lake a week later on June 7th.