Friday, July 31, 2015

The Sustainable Food Chart


A hungry man has been talking lately about the importance of sustainable food. This isn't a fad, or even some sort of new gimmick to force people to eat better. This is about changing habits we had no right to expect in the first place.

The facts are becoming crystal clear. Our over-reliance on fruits, vegetables, seafood and meats that must be available all year 'round is not sustainable. It is not good for the planet, it is not good for the environment, it is not good for us. And we, the professionals who talk about and share information within the food industry, must increasingly do more to push sustainable food education to the masses. Hard. This is a great way to start.

Check out this food season chart. Use it, memorize it, even make a game of it. Find or even create your own recipes that will utilize this chart to the best of its ability. Do the best you can to not only eat right, but eat responsibly.

I remember a quote that stuck with me from a Stephen King book. A character said that the brain is a muscle that can move the world. Lets use those brain cells and start thinking not only about our edible future,but finding the best wasy to keep us nourished in a smart, effective way.

The Seasonal Food Chart, courtesy of EatUS/Canada.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Rebirth of Lard




image courtesy of paleorobbie.com

It's making a coming back, although it's been there for years. Are you ready for the rebirth of lard?

There is no doubt that we really do live in interesting food times. The choices we can make regarding our diet is mind-numbing. Or maybe a better word would be mind-boggling? Regardless of the proper word, for a majority of people in North America, we are lucky to have these choices. Of course, with many so many culinary roads to choose from, every so often it happens that the foods we've vilified, ignored or forgotten due to trends or dietary changes, can sometimes return. And right now, what's making its way back into the food limelight, after years in culinary purgatory - is lard.

Lard. You can already envision the visceral reaction upon hearing or seeing the word 'lard'. You can feel the cringes, the frowns, or the looks of absolute disgust creasing the brows of the general population. But here's the deal. Lard has already been making its presence known for some time now. It happened subtly at first, but the resurgence of lard to cooking has become a bit louder and brasher thanks to in-the-know chefs, restaurants and culinary professionals constantly scanning the horizon for the next best food trend.

And here's a harsher truth. Lard is not the evil demon it was once effectively portrayed thanks to overzealous heath conscious types, scientists and dietitians. In fact, it's been the science community whom have recently, albeit slowly, been backing away from their original crusade against lard, as well as other fats such as butter. There seems to be a general consensus, that yes, human do need a bit of fat in their diet. Scientific and lab created replacement products don't and won't cut it anymore.

So what happened? Why did lard - the basis of centuries of cooking and baking, leave the pantry and why is it coming back? According to NPR reporter Robert Smith, his research cites the original demise of lard on a number of factors. He names three culprits, which include a best-selling author, a chemist and a company called Procter and Gamble.

Upton Sinclair is the author of The Jungle, a book about the meat and poultry industry. Smith states that the book almost single handedly destroyed peoples taste for lard. Throw in a prime opportunity for a chemist named E.C. Kayser, who discovered that hydrogenated cottonseed oil, leftover from making candles, produced almost the same results and look as lard. Then partner that discovery with Proctor and Gamble to market this new lard alternative, called Crisco and voila - the end of lard in the household.

But after years of neglect, lard is back, bolder than ever. The composition of rendered animal fat - which admittedly reads terribly when it's written out, really does make a difference when it's added to a number of foods most people enjoy eating. Remember the kerfuffle with McDonalds fries? After making changes to the way the fries were cooked, thanks to a huge outcry against using animals fats, the famous fries did not taste as good as it used to. And it was noticed. Why? Blame health advocates for raising their voices to remove beef fat from the frying process. It was replaced by a hydrogenated version which makes you think, sure - that's so much healthier, thank you for making that change. Lets move away from a natural product, to a chemical one created from leftover oils that were used to make candles. Hooray for healthy alternatives.

Personally, I am thrilled lard is making its presence known again in the culinary world. I've always stated that a tasty life - in moderation, is a good life. By no means should you be introducing lard to your everyday diet, but go on, use lard when you make that pie and then tell me you don't notice an immediate difference when you bite into that crust.

Get out the red carpet. It's time to welcome lard back into your kitchen pantry.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Rethinking recipes in times of climate change




image courtesy of www.washingtonpost.com

There is a drought crisis happening right now in California that is having a direct affect on the rich food life that we - and I mean every one of us in North America, has taken for granted. The drought is having a direct, negative impact on the agricultural practices of foods we've come to enjoy and rely on. It is also effecting our ability to create and replicate recipes that use these particular foods.

Now, more than ever, there is a real need to make serious changes to what we, in the food and culinary world deem "recipe-friendly" to the masses. This is an outright call for change in order to get people to start thinking about using ingredients that are truly local, seasonal and just plain better for our environmental health and survival.

California has been in the news a great deal this past year. The television program 60 minutes recently featured an in-depth report on the state's water shortage. The New York Times also did a feature about the same issue. The mainstream media's extensive coverage of this story may be recent news for the rest of the world, but the water shortage, and the dilemma of how to deal with it has been an ongoing issue for California politicians and citizens for over four years.

The reason it is seriously becoming the topic of many and not just for California citizens is very clear. The rain shortage is happening in what is perhaps the most important agricultural region in North America. The concern is real, and the solutions to solve it are causing additional environmental problems and grievances within the California farming community.

California is the state where a number of popular foods originate. Produce such as almonds, strawberries, avocados, lemons, limes, and cherries - to name a few, all hail from this region. All these foods are available to consumers all year, all the time. According to the report in the New York Times, approximately 80% of all water usage in the state of California does not go towards the swimming pools, lawns or even something that is actually needed like the drinking water of the population. Instead, that water usage is for agriculture.

The water usage rate, in relation to what is currently available thanks to the drought, is at such a high, almost alarming level, that farmers are currently hiring well diggers to drain underground water tables in order to feed the insatiable appetites of almond trees, livestock ranches and other water-guzzling agricultural activities. This is creating a negative environmental and social domino effect whose impact is only now being seen and felt.

What is happening in California is distressing. The water crisis occurring within that state, like or not, has a direct impact on what we - within the food industry, can create and bring to people. Whether it's in restaurants, grocery stores or personal kitchens, what's happening in California affects the job we have to do. We, and that means everyone in the food industry, has a duty to raise the profile of this issue. Food industry practitioners have to make it crystal clear, that our insatiable demand for vegetables and fruits to be available year round is unsustainable. It is having a disastrous effect on our planet, not just on an environmental level, but also an economic and a basic human survival level.

It is also incumbent on the food industry to not only create recipes that are seasonal, but to also drastically push the "only seasonal" message on to consumers. We have a responsibility to change the attitudes of the world. It only takes a little movement to push a boulder. Yes, the push for seasonal foods is happening and has been for a while now. But the urgency to be vigilant about this issue is moving from "lets have a campaign", to "lets create a serious crackdown plan" on what we recommend people create for sustenance, for living, and yes, for enjoyment.

No one likes to be told what to do, but an exception needs to be made in this case. The push for recipe redux time may not and should not be an idea that will die when a new issue arises. It's time to make a change. Now. For our health and survival.

'Seasonal' needs to be the word for life, from this point forward. And for this blog, it starts now.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Pride and Perseverance




It's really come to my attention - as the years go by, just how much Pride has become increasingly important to me. When I was younger, I actively avoided it. I was still deeply in the closet, but I would enviously and secretly stare from afar, at the spectacle, the over-the-top craziness, and the clear display of fun and joy of the people participating.

At that time in my life, I was too afraid to join in, too afraid to speak out about my desire to be a part of history. I was too afraid to acknowledge its importance and its future impact on my life. I suppose thats always often the case for many closeted men and woman.

It's such a huge event now, and I am actively and happily part of it. Although I sometimes still express ambivalence about attending Pride events, I deeply care about what it represents to my life as a gay male. I want to be there, no matter how I feel leading up to the events, and I know many of my friends feel the same.

This year was a particular reason to celebrate. Finally, our American friends saw the light and the Supreme Court granted full rights to marry for same sex couples. It was a huge moment in gay history, and it was deeply felt by everyone at this years Pride 2015 in Toronto.

Despite the victory in the United States, the fight to be recognized as equals, as people, will continue. Around the world, there are many LGBT people who are suffering either in silence or are facing a great deal of hostility, danger and the potential to be killed for simply wanting the right to be themselves. As we celebrated and enjoyed our own personal freedom here in Canada, that was on my mind.

I hope that one day, when we gather together to celebrate Pride, it will be an inclusive celebration for all LGBT people around the world. It will happen.

Pride and perseverance, for all of us.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A hungry man's love letter to Shake Shack and Chelsea Market




All images courtesy of Stephen Wilson and Marcia Wilson

I left a bit of a cliffhanger with my last post (read it here). There was a reason for that and you'll soon find out as you read on.

You see, I was left heartbroken and bereft when I left New York, and that's because I fell in love. Hard. This was a love that shook me to the core of my appetite and stomach. It was out of the blue that this thunderbolt of love hit me, and I’m still reverberates a week later. I am still trying to catch my breath in disbelief that it happened so fast, so quickly. It is for this reason, that I've dedicated an entire post to the amazing, delicious, so worth the forty-minute wait and huge lineups. Yes Shake Shack, I'm writing a message of love to you.

The story of a 'Shack' love begins now.

It was on my last day in the city, and it could be described as an ordinary New York day. We planned a visit to Chelsea Market and then we were to head back to the hotel, pack up and leave for Toronto. I should make a quick diversion here and describe Chelsea Market and The High Line, as both are fantastic 'must-sees' when you're in New York. Take a note wussy councillors in Toronto. Want to do something about the hideous Gardiner expressway? Turn it into a pedestrian friendly, gorgeous tree and plant-covered walkway for residents and tourists and they will eat it up.

The High line has been a huge success since it opened to the public in 2009. A former elevated rail line running along the west side of Manhattan, and now converted to a pedestrian walkway, it was absolutely rammed with people when my sister and I arrived. The landscaping and work that went into the redesign of this once polluted highway, is indeed an impressive feat. It is also testament to the dedication of civic-minded people, all of whom were determined to turn something that was strictly meant for trains, into something actually useful and healthy for the city. Now, New York has completely survived without this once important transportation route, and Toronto would too if something radical is achieved with the Gardiner. But I digress.

The High Line takes you to Chelsea Market, and what else is there to add that hasn't already been said about a fantastic food hall, shopping mall, office building, television production facility and the home of the Food Network? It is a gorgeous, reclaimed industrial building with an impressive array of specialty food, wine and desserts. You can spend hours in there, or maybe just hang around to see if you catch a glimpse of a favourite Food Network personality. I'm sure that's a rarity, but while you stalk - I mean search, take the time to browse, partake in the free food samples or do the next best thing: people watch.



But the visit was over, and it was time to head back to the hotel. I thought to myself that maybe I should have grabbed lunch at the market, but honestly, I knew that a market meal wasn't going to happen. My mind was set. It was definitely time to take look at Shake Shack. After all, it was right around the corner from the hotel. Why not grab a burger to go and eat as I pack up. But more importantly, it was just time to find out what was all the fuss about. I was about to be given a thorough, delicious reason as to why there was such a fuss about the place.

I was fascinated the minute I set eyes on it. Prior to my visit and just walking past it, I recall being stunned at the lineups that began at lunchtime, and lasted until closing time. Tourists and residents alike stood -patiently I might add, for hours. People took pictures. People, whom I'm sure will never set eyes on each other again were instantly 'friends-in-a-queue', as they waited patiently for their turn to order. It was fascinating to watch.

Look, I know that we all need to curb our calories. Fried foods are a huge reason why a majority of citizens on this planet are suffering a myriad of our most serious health issues. But I'm sorry to have to make a slight digression in regards to that particular health issue. Shake Shack burger and fries are sublime. Sublime I tell you. Particularly since this is fast food. I'd eat this over any of the burger chains if I was forced to choose. The fries stay crispy for much longer than I thought, and it's crinkle cut(!). I repeat, it's crinkle cut! That means nothing to a lot of you, but to me? I love crinkle cut fries.

But what about the burger you may ask? According to the 'dinersjournal' blog, the burger is a blend of mostly brisket, with chuck and short rib mixed in. It would explain the incredible moistness of the burger. The cheeseburger I ordered had a tasty, squishy bun, lettuce, sliced Roma tomatoes, a Kraft Cheese slice - yes, not artisanal cheese here folks, but the slices you'd find in any grocery dairy aisle. It also came with a rather tasty 'special sauce', which had a tangy, sweet and sour taste. I'd definitely compare it to a tartar sauce mixed with Thousand Island dressing - not a great picture I know, but regardless of the ingredients, it hit the right flavour spot. Obviously, that's not really what the sauce is made of as it is a ahem 'secret', but it was an interesting enough flavour that really did lend itself beautifully to the burger.

I ate it in five minutes. I yelled at my sister that she must try a bite of it, but I secretly hoped she wouldn't. She declined. She knows better than to get in the way when I'm on the hunger train.

In the ongoing burger wars brewing in the States, the hamburger chain contenders revolve around In'N'Out, Five Guys and Shake Shack. I have yet to try the other two versions, but so far for me it is all about Shake Shack. It is in the forefront of my mind. It is the one I wish to write songs and poetry for. It is whom I would get down on my knees and offer a proposal. Did I not mention earlier that it was hard love?

Oh, if there was a way to bring back with me to Canada, I'd never let you go. Would you say that a hungry man has lost it? Maybe. But I'm telling you, this place is worth the ode to love.I even have a great location where it would almost guarantee some serious crowds.

Give it some thought Shake Shack. Please. Please, don't let the image of the empty Shake Shack bag below be my last thought and impression of you. I know that the city - ok, maybe just me, would be ever so happy/grateful/forever in love with your presence. Think about it.

In the meantime, I shall cherish the burger memories and the picture below, as a reminder of good things to potentially come.