BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Friday, July 27, 2012

A bit of Ireland

It's been quite a while since I touched on Ireland, but I decided to blog about a few products that I think would be hits if I were to import them over here. I did this while we were in Ireland and it turns out that some of those products actually made it over here (grow bags now abound). 

Also there is a few Irish/British food shops in Victoria so I can't miss things like imported Cadbury's Chocolates... though I do wonder why British Chocolates are mostly Fairtrade, and the same brands found in my local stores aren't!  Clearly, the average consumer in Canada doesn't care that much about Fairtrade.  But after hearing a radio documentary on the child labour practices in the Chocolate industry, I do care... which really limits me to only two brands of chocolate (unless I go to the English Sweet Shop to buy imported Cadbury's chocolates).  And for any potential visitors who are afraid of missing that distinctly Irish flavour of tea, we can get Barry's tea at two shops on Government Street (Out of Ireland, and the Irish Linen Stores).  However, I still think an AVOCA store would do awfully well in Victoria.

We'll start off with a product that I actually DID try to import.  Bamboo Charcoal.  As it turns out, new regulations consider it a "combustible product" (even though it's perfectly stable, and not burnable at all).  So I could have a small amount brought over for personal use in Claire's checked baggage, but I could not send a crate over.  And why would I want this product?  Well it's a very good water filter, and much more environmentally friendly than anything with a cartridge as the used bit of charcoal can be added to your compost. 

But the main reason I thought it would be good to import bamboo charcoal is that it is one of the only things that can ACTUALLY take chloramines out of our water.  While we were away Victoria, and many other communities across North America, switched from purifying with chlorine to purifying with a chlorine-amonia combo.  The reason for the switch is because chloramines are much more stable than chlorine, and will stay in the water right until it reaches the user (chlorine evaporates).  My issue with chlormaines is that they are a known carcinogen.  Surely not in the concentrations used in our water... but I don't want to test that theory over time.  My other issue with chloramines is that their stability means that they aren't filtered out with a drip-through charcoal filter like Brita (or any of the more expensive products on the market), they aren't removed by a short boil, and they aren't filtered out by many of the expensive filters available on the market.  If you want to filter out chloramines, then you would have to read the fine print on your water filter.  (Most of my information found on chloramines in water is regarding aquariums, as it's toxic for fish).

However, acid will break apart the chloramine... but I don't feature floating lemons in ALL of my cooking water.  And activated carbon (charcoal) will bind the chloramines (though it takes an 8 hour period to do so, which is why it effective when a simple "on demand" style of charcoal filter won't work).  Phew!  Finding out all of this did take some research... and thanks to Claire's visit in May I now have a two-year supply of water filters!

The last two products require little explanation. I think that Bunalun's Organic Chocolate Covered Rice Cakes (and all the others in the line, though the dark chocolate-orange flavoured ones were my favourite!) would do well over here.

I also think that a product like Linwoods ground seed/fruit/nut meals would sell well.  We always have ground flax with our breakfast cereal, but in Ireland we would buy the flax seed with gogi berries because Nikolai liked the "pink-colour".  And I was also keen on the on the omega mix.  In the whole foods mecca that is the West Coast, I'm sure that there are many people who would sprinkle a few spoon fulls of various "super-food" combos on their morning cereals, smoothies or salads etc.  Now if only I were a bit more entrepreneurial!

The picture above is my laundry line draped across our deck.  The rest of the pictures are of some of the nice older homes on our street.  (Apparently our house MAY have clapboard siding hidden away under the ugly old stucco.)







Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ripe with Plenty

Our garden is throwing out the spoils of early plantings, and we are enjoying the ability to pick our dinner right before it needs to be cooked.  We are eating kale, carrots, zucchini, peas, lettuce, onions and a host of other garden flavours.  We planted a few crops of edible flowers (borage, nasturtiums, calendula) that have found their way into many meals.  We are also lucky to find that our yard has been well stocked with fruit trees.  The yellow cherries have proven to be sweet and good.  I hope to find similar results from the 3 apple trees, 2 plum trees and the pear tree. And for those who are far away and cannot see our garden first hand, here are a few pictures.

A garden salad with calendula petals.
The cherries from the old cherry tree.
Nikolai's rainbow carrots (a seed pack from the kid friendly section of our local gardening store).
And a picture of a pregnant looking me... standing next to one of our very elderly apple trees.  This one, though completely hollow, has a rather abundant looking crop!
Yes, we're going to be adding a second child to our family... a child that is auspiciously due on December 26th. It gives us plenty of potential for an exciting mid-holiday birth... or an end-of-the-world birth... or a dawning of the age of Aquarius birth.  Whatever the case, it will be exciting.  And we are already fishing for ideas about what we're going to do with the potentially awkward birth date.  Because, really, no one wants to hang the "Happy Birthday" sign up next to their stockings...  Our current ideas include transposing the birthday forward by six months so that it's celebrated on June 26th with Nikolai (though a second baby also born exactly on the due date is quite unlikely).  Or moving the day of celebration forward or backward to December 1st or January 30th.  Any xmas babies want to weigh in on the debate?  It's always good to hear from someone with personal experience!

Now, to finish off with a very garden friendly recipe.

Vegetarian Salad Rolls with Nutty Dipping Sauce

For the sauce, combine all of the following in a jar or bowl and mix until smooth:
-4 tbsp nut butter (I like almond, Brad likes peanut)
-4 tbsp water
-2 tbsp soy sauce
-1 tbsp brown sugar (or honey)
-1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

For the salad rolls you need:
-large rice paper wrappers (~8)
-rice vermicelli (1/2 package)
-chopped nuts of your choice
-assorted vegetables julienned (carrots, cucumber, peppers, zucchini, sweet peas etc.)
-the flavourings.  In our case we went to our garden for spring onions, basil, mint, cilantro and celendula (mostly for colour).

Pour boiling water over the rice vermicelli and let sit until soft.  Rinse with cold water, then season with salt to taste.  I used about 1/3 tsp of salt.
To assemble, soak one of the rice paper wrappers in warm water for about 1 minute, until soft (I used a cookie sheet).  Carefully transfer to a dry tea towel, fill with your ingredients of choice and wrap by folding in the ends, then wrapping over half the wrapper, and then rolling tightly.
Enjoy with the sauce!  Though I don't recommend dipping as that tends to be a bit messy.  I made 8 rolls and we were full after eating only 7. You can store them by wrapping them individually in plastic and leaving them in the fridge for up to a day.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Beacon Hill Park

In Vancouver... and the truism seems to apply to Victoria as well... May and June are always fraught with bad weather.  However, July 1st seems to herald the start of sunshine and summer.  This axiom definitely seems to be holding true this year.  So I finally have the photos to give a complete picture of the FABULOUS park that we live a block away from.

The park is so absolutely FAB that it was the only anchor in our choice of a place to live.  We simply wanted to be within walking distance of Victoria's largest city park.  Our proximity to the park certainly has lead to some interesting backyard companions... like peacocks... and the deer who ate up our peas.  But living so close to the park is worth it, because it's THAT amazing. And why is the park so fabulous?

Let's start with what it offers the bus loads of tourists who stop for photographs... it has a cliffside that overlooks the ocean, with views that stretch out to the snow-peaked Olympic mountains on mainland USA.   It has plentiful numbers of cultivated gardens of all different sorts.  Nikolai likes exploring around the many duck ponds and the alpine rock garden best.

Of course it has a pretty fab playground (though admittedly it's not quite as fantastic as the playground in Maynooth, but I suspect the litigiousness of our society would not permit for three-story slides).

It has two water parks.
There's a mini golf area that's free... but requires you to bring your own putters (we don't have any yet... so no picture).  There's a children's farm that allows kids to get up close and personal with the animals.
But our favourite feature would have to be the band shelter. There are free concerts every Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer.  Nikolai really has been enjoying the variety of music, and has much more patience to sit through a concert than I do!  So far we've seen some folk, Celtic, Cajun and jazz bands.  However, on four Wednesdays throughout the summer they have special concerts for children.  Today we attended our first of the children's concerts, and Nikolai was enraptured.  It was a subset of the Victoria symphony, who taught the children about the various instruments. They explored music, and played some "animal" themed songs, getting the kids involved with "dancing like a turtle", etc. The best part of all was at the end when the children got to try out some of the instruments.  And even though the audience was well packed, and there were line ups for every instrument, Nikolai got to successfully try a violin and not so successfully try a trumpet.  I figure he needs a bit larger lung capacity before he'll be able to get any sound from a brass instrument.  However, he would like to take up the violin! Right now! Please! 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

A food solution

For our second camping trip of the year we decided to head out to Galiano Island and Montague Bay Provincial Park.  Our main reason for choosing the campground was its advertised "family-friendliness".  And it certainly fit the bill! We enjoyed the floating interpretive centre, the 3 different beaches, tons of hikes and tons of other kids.  The interpretive centre was run by a very knowledgeable and keen-on-kids Naturalist. We joined in on an intertidal exploration session, and she was great at accommodating Nikolai in with all the older kids.  She also let Nikolai "help" her empty the touch-tank of creatures at closing time of the nature centre.

So, we are definitely considering camping there again next year!

Now the only difficulty with cycle camping and Nikolai is around the food.  At issue is the fact that my follow-up visit with the allergist basically resulted in the sulfite and sucrose-free diet becoming a permanent fixture in our life.  The only consolation that I have is that the discharge letter exclaims over how pleasant it was to work with us... and gives us another few months of dietary consultation via email.  At least the weight of the letter will ensure that all schools/camps/etc. will take his diet seriously.

Now... what should I do for easy, camping-friendly, light-weight foods?  After pursuing the instant noodles/rice/potato packages that would have previously been our fall back, I realized that most of them were labeled as containing sulfites... which probably means that even those that aren't labeled with sulfites are likely sulfite offenders.  (I'm not sure about the legalities in the USA and Ireland, but in Canada foods are only required to label sulfites if it contains more than 10 ppm).  Sulfites are even considered a natural and organic preservative since they are naturally found in grapes (wine), cabbage (sauerkraut), vinegars, and mushrooms.

So I decided to create my own "instant camp food" recipes.  If I was uber-prepared I could have dehydrated some veg for my meals, but as it was... I cooked with fresh vegetables that we picked up en route.

Lentil Noodle Stew
Pre-mix in a ziploc at home: 1/2 cup of red lentils, 1/2 cup of alphabet pasta, 2 tsp bullion powder, 1 tsp dried parsley, 1 tsp dried basil and 1 tsp nutritional yeast flakes.

At camp I added 2 cups of water to my ziploc bag and soaked the lentils and pasta for a few hours to make them quicker to cook.  Then I sauteed up some veg (onions, carrots and peppers).  When they were soft, I dumped in the contents of the ziploc bag and cooked everything together for about 15 minutes. We salted to taste and really enjoyed the results.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture... but it was really, really good.

Camp Quinoa Salad
The pre mixed ziploc bag contained: 1 cup of quinoa, 2 tsp bullion powder, 2 tsp dried parsley and 1/2 tsp of ground pepper.

Again I filled the ziploc bag with 2 cups of water and soaked for a few hours. I then boiled it up for about 15 minutes.  We added 1/2 a lemon worth of juice, 2 tbsp of olive oil and fresh vegetables (tomatoes, cucumber).
I'm also inspired to make a red lentil-based burrito filling, so maybe I'll try that on our next trip out!

The picture above is Brad and Nikolai exploring the intertidal zone.  The "Shell Beach" has really interesting rock formations and mud flats that make it an amazing place to explore the intertidal ecosystem.

Below is a picture of our "sweet-ride" with Nikolai napping through most of our journey.  And the second picture is Nikolai's "Pirate face". The white sand beach behind him is actually a midden from a traditional First Nations fishing village. The beach is actually white from all the cast-aside shells having been tumbled into the beach.