Sunday, May 1, 2011

Eat Alberta 2011: A Celebration of Our Local Food Heroes

Six weeks ago, I posted about the first-ever, and then upcoming, Eat Alberta conference to be held in Edmonton on April 30, 2011. I was so excited about the opportunity to learn and share and connect with fellow food lovers. If I was able to, I would have registered for every session that was to be offered.

That excitement held through until the actual conference day... yesterday... and carried me, enthusiastically, through a very full day.

Our day began with a continental breakfast. I would be remiss if I did not wax poetic about the food offered to us throughout the event! We were presented with a beautiful array of choices (though I figure that most of us chose everything!)... there were Queen of Tarts apricot-ginger or Irvings ham scones, with a variety of jam options (I took a healthy dollop of the Royal Raspberry, courtesy of the Jam Lady). There was Bles-Wold yogurt and homemade granola, chock full of seeds and fruit. It was all washed down with a cup of Transcend's coffee and saskatoon-(and something else that I cannot, for the life of me, remember) lemonade. Needless to say, we were well fed and ready for the first keynote.

Jennifer Berkenbosch and James Vriend of Sundog Organic Farm gave us their delightfully "foolish" perspective on planting that seed. It all started as a 100-day challenge to eat a local diet. Now, two seasons later, Sundog is a mainstay at the market and in our kitchens. Jenny thoughtfully reminded us that we are tethered to the earth and that nothing reminds you more of that than connecting to your food, that which sustains you at a base level. The gardening or growing tips that we were left with were to:
1. Let our minds loose and think outside of the box... Take suggestions from nature and see what grows well her but take chances.
2. Compost, compost, compost. Feed your soil. That is your job. Then, that soil will feed your plants and your plants will feed you. It's a beautiful circle.
3. Enjoy and experience your soil. Do some reading, testing and research to know all about your soil... it will help you to grow your best plants.
4. Crop rotation. We all learned about crop rotation in grade school. Certain plants draw certain things out of the soil, as that is what they need to grow and thrive, so -logic dictates- that if you keep one type of plant in one particular area then eventually it will have taken all of that particular nutrient from the soil. You rotate your crops to keep your soil and your plants healthy and vibrant.
5. Grow fun stuff, try some new things. Heritage varieties help maintain crop and seed diversity. Peruse seed catalogues and garden centres for new plants. It will keep your garden an exciting and ever-changing place.

The final question that Jenny asked us was in response to the mindset that "I'm too busy to garden and grow my own food... I don't have time... etc etc":
Are the things that keep you busy nurturing your life?

It was a call to reexamine your priorities and I think that it was heard by all.

From this inspiring place, we moved to our two morning sessions. I was off to Apple Pie and Pastry Making 101. This would not be my first encounter with pie-making but, as pastry is such a finicky thing, I knew that there would be great benefit to hearing about how another person makes their trademark pie (and crust). It's quite funny how each of our backgrounds and past experiences fuel our opinions about how something "should" be done. Some people might say that there is a "right" and a "wrong" way to do just about anything... my thoughts are that we all have our own way of getting to that same end goal. This class challenged me to work that lard a LOT more than I have in the past... if not prompted, I never would have cut and worked the fat to that point. It was a great shift in perspective. Our hard work in this session yielded some great pastry handing tips and a pretty little apple pie to cook at home.

From there, I was off to the World Tour of Coffee. As much as I love my coffee, I think I am equally in love with the ritual of it and taking that time for yourself. This session pushed me to think about the actual process of processing, roasting and brewing that bean (or beans, rather). I "knew" that a great deal went into the production of coffee but I had no idea what that actual entailed. It was so interesting to hear about the direct trade relationship that Transcend has with the coffee producers in various countries around the world.
- Fair trade coffee can run approximately $4.20 per pound, as compared to commodity coffee in the $2.00 range.
- To properly evaluate coffee (in the raw bean form), you need to get your face right in the bag (or into your hands, if you're scooping up the beans) and inhale as much as you can. You have to smell it. There is no visible way to discern the quality otherwise. You don't want to smell potato or any mold/fermented aromas and so on...
- The coffee bean itself is encased in a "cherry" or outer shell. The deeper the colour of the cherry means more sugar and ripeness. Depending on the variety, the cherry could be a deep red or purple, yellow or orange. The coffee/cherry must be ripe for it to be suitable for further processing.
- There are MANY ways to process the coffee. The cherry and mucilage (the pulpy, sweet in which the coffee bean resides) must be removed but when and how both are removed can impact significantly the flavour of the final product. For example, a honeyed coffee was pulled from the cherry but the mucilage was allowed to dry on/with the coffee bean itself, yielding a sweeter coffee.
- Some countries process the cherry (dry it and so on) to produce cascara, which is extremely high in caffeine. It can adverse health implications, especially if a woman is pregnant, so some countries do not allow this production.
- Coffee tasting is everything that my mother taught me NOT to do! You are supposed to slurp, aspirate and smell your coffee with a slightly open mouth. It's quite hilarious really... and I could feel my mother's disapproving gaze as I attempted to participate.
- Grind on demand and brew on demand. We have all heard it before. Ground coffee will change noticeably and considerably within 3-5 minutes of grinding... that's 3-5 minutes that took your coffee from what it should have been, to just being.
- Tasting coffee from different regions in side-by-side comparison really helped me to taste and smell the nuances of each. It was remarkable to taste such caramel and chocolate in one, then more fruit and acid in another. Give it a shot!

Lunch... oh lunch... how you made me smile! A beautiful cassoulet was prepared (by Valerie of A Canadian Foodie and EA organizer) and perfumed the room, as it was scooped then adorned with plain or chive creme fraiche. Honestly, this cassoulet would have been impressive enough on its own. However, it was flanked on the other side of the room by Twelve Tastes (yes, it requires capital letters)... beautiful cheeses, meats, honeys, jams, breads, and dried fruit. It was brilliant.

Next up, my evolution to true Ukrainian-hood was to be complete as we ground meat, seasoned, taste-tested, then extruded our very own artisan sausages (a kielbasa and a spicy Italian). I was just giddy. I absolutely MUST have the meat-grinder attachment for my Kitchen-Aid... and the sausage filler/extruder/whatchamacallit. Pretty please. Until then, my take-away of sausage tips and recipes, plus one of each sausage that we produced in class, will have to suffice.

Then, it was down the hall for the Slow Rise Pizza Dough session... abbreviated to fit in our one-hour time slot. Taking a mere five ingredients, we transformed all into a beautiful ball of dough that was ready to rise its way into pizza goodness. Again, the experience of another pushed me to change my technique... as I added SIGNIFICANTLY more water to the dough than I would have if I had been making it on my own. I underestimated that flour... give it a chance and it will eventually absorb what I had thought was too much water. Lesson: learned.

Our final keynote of the day was delivered by Kevin Kossowan on his "From Local Farms" project. After watching a highlight reel of the 2010 episodes, we were pushed to think again about our notion of local food and those producing it. It was comforting to hear that only a few short years ago, Kevin was a regular grocery store shopper like the great majority of people in our city... and has now educated himself, and sought education and information from farmers and the local food community, to understand better the world of local food. Not only was it one more wake-up call in our day, it helped you to believe that you too could make that shift.

There will be individual posts on the apple pie, artisan sausage and slow rise pizza dough sessions (coming soon!). That said, this was a considerably longer post than usual but it needed to be in order to do justice to the day, event, organizers, volunteers, presenters... and what we are trying to accomplish. I left this event sooooo excited about what we had accomplished and learned and those fantastic people that I met. Thank you to each of you... I hope that you have the good fortune to attend this event in the future (or one like it) and end up feeling as fantastic as I do right now.

And I leave you with some links to other local food bloggers, some of whom I had the good fortune to meet and chat with, who have posted their thoughts about the day (I will update this as posts appear!):
City and Dale
Cookbook Cooks and a second part too!
Dine and Write
Edmonton Journal Story by Liane Faulder, Storify by Kerry Powell, and Gallery by Bruce Clarke.
Food, Football and a Baby
Garneau Home Kitchen
Moments in Digital Flickr
Walsh Cooks

6 thought(s):

Andrea said...

Wow what a great read, you summed up the day perfectly. I cant wait to read your follow up posts. It was great to meet you, so funny and such a great personality.

A Canadian Foodie said...

This is a powerful read and a beautiful gift to myself and our organizing team as through your post, it is clear to see that we did accomplish our goals. Your writing is compelling. To see the day through your eyes and to read some of the points that struck home with you is inspiring to me. I, too, look forward to part two. I also have to say that your boundless enthusiasm is contagious and it was wonderful to see you again!

A Canadian Foodie said...

PS - would you consider uploading Feedburner so that I could subscribe to your site and receive your posts in my e-mail box?
(It's free)

Liv V. said...

You nailed it! It was such a great weekend that I was loathe to leave.

Allan Suddaby said...

Great recap. I agree that the ritual of drinking coffee is as important as the drink itself. Glad I could help you ascend to true Ukrainian-inity.

Anonymous said...

ooooh. I can't wait for your longer post about the pizza dough making! I missed that session - it was tough to narrow it down to four wasn't it!

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