Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Mega-Quarry is Dead!!

For more than a year now, from Foodstock to Soupstock, I have brought you news of the fight against a giant quarry planned for rural Ontario that would be devastating to the environment. Environmentalists, community leaders and chefs have all been involved to save this prime Ontario farmland and ensure that our land and water remains secure.

Now I have found out that Highland Companies has withdrawn their application for the mega-quarry, specifically referencing a lack of community support for the project. They also expressed displeasure that an environmental assessment had been ordered.

Victory! In an era when large corporate interests always seem to carry the day, it is wonderful and heartening to see a grass-roots community based movement take down a damaging plan from a powerful corporation. And it is clear that the end of the mega-quarry is DIRECTLY tied to these grass roots efforts.

28,000 people attended Foodstock on a remote farm on a cold and windy day last year and a similar crowd converged on Woodbine Park in Toronto last month for Soupstock. And the community groups that rallied around the cause took up as their first challenge lobbying for an environmental assessment for the mega-quarry despite the fact that provincial law did not require one. Fortunately the governing Liberal party was facing an upcoming election and decided to order one to appeal to their base. Then they survived the election and actually carried through on that promise. Now Highland finds the approval process asking many more questions and that they have no community support, so they drop the project and withdraw the application. As they still own that huge tract of land, it is not fully dead, and Highland has not ruled out applying to start a smaller quarry at some future time, still the massive impending disaster of a mega-quarry will not happen. This would not have been possible without so many people mobilizing against it and making their voices heard.

Since I never got around to reporting on Soupstock, despite attending the event, I will write a little and post a few pictures in this post. It was an absolutely beautiful day, a little warmer than average for late October and sunny all day long. This time, we had to buy tickets to get servings of soup, with 3 servings costing $10. I found that this was worth it, as each serving of soup was actually a full portion. Like last year, I attended the event with my mom, and we had about 6 servings each. As this was a month ago, my memories aren't quite as clear as I would like, but some highlights were an onion soup with braised Cumbrae Farms lamb, a hot and sour soup prepared by Susur Lee, a potato, leek, and sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) soup with bacon, and a peach soup with granola and yogurt. Almost every soup we had was excellent and offered something noteworthy. As this was a park in Toronto, many people brought their dogs along, which added to the friendliness of the atmosphere.

So, great news for Ontarians and all those who care about the environment and sustainability. This may not be over forever, but it still a victory and a sigh of relief.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Soupstock 2012 - Still Fighting the Mega-Quarry

Hello again.  Now I know the answer to what starting school would do to my posting.  This has been such a huge workload that I really haven’t had time to write posts, with all the writing I have to do for my classes and all the time the program occupies – both in and out of class.  But when time allows, I will continue to make posts, and this one is important.

It has now been a year that I have been following the fight against a mega-quarry in prime farmland in Melancthon Township.  Last year I attended Foodstock, a fundraiser on a potato farm in the region that had over 70 local chefs providing tastes of their cuisines.  While the mega-quarry is not a reality yet, the application is still alive and making its way through the various permit processes.  The Canadian Chefs Congress along with the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT)  continue to fight the project and are still raising money for legal representation to be sure the voice of sustainability is heard.  This year, there will be another big event, and this one will be in the city, with the expectation of more participation and a crowd that could top the 28,000 that attended Foodstock last year.

Now the cause has a large additional ally, the David Suzuki Foundation, perhaps Canada’s most respected environmental organization.  This year the event is Soupstock, and it will be held Sunday, October 21, 2012 at Woodbine Park in Toronto, Ontario, from 11am-4pm.  

View Larger Map

 As the name suggests, all the chefs will be serving soups, something I’m pretty sure was inspired by that cold, windy and rainy day we had at Foodstock last year.  The cost of the event is also being handled in a somewhat different way.  While last year it was a $10 suggested donation to enter, this year entry is free but the servings of soup will be pre-purchased with tickets.  $10 will buy three servings of soup.  Similar to last year, participants will be expected to bring their own bowl and spoon.  Seeing as they are charging $10 for only 3 portions, I am guessing the servings of soup may actually be full, or close to full, servings as opposed to tiny tastings that they had last year.  There are well over 100 chefs this time, I’m sure a result of relocating to Toronto.  Notable attendees include returning chefs Michael Stadtlander, Jamie Kennedy and Brad Long, and other chefs joining include Susur Lee, perhaps Canada’s most talented chef, and Greg Rennet, the chef from Painter’s Hall right here in Barrie, the subject of one of my posts this summer.  The set list for the musical portion of the day is also considerably more extensive.

I will be attending this year as well.  While I am very busy, Soupstock is taking place during my reading week, when I will not be in Barrie and will have access to transportation.  Furthermore, this time I have a larger network of friends and colleagues and I will make an effort to spread the word and suggest to many of my classmates that this would be a worthwhile event.  Since some of them live in the Toronto area and might be home for reading week, I hope some of them may be able to attend and lend their support to this cause.

Again, I ask any of my readers who live in the Greater Toronto Area to please consider attending this event and lend your support to this very important cause.  You can taste soup of some of the best chefs in the country and keep up the fight against the mega-quarry.  For information about the mega-quarry visit the Soupstock website or refer to my post from last year.  And in addition to my voice, I include this message from David Suzuki of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Oh, and of course, one more thing.  Happy Birthday to me!!  I'm 31 now, and at least I'm finally making some progress towards my future.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Beer Can Chicken

A long time ago I wrote a post about how to roast chicken.  Click here to find that post.  It was a general post that explained what I termed the best way to roast any form of poultry.  Well, in the summer you don’t really want to use the oven very much.  Fortunately there is an even better way to roast chicken, this time on the barbecue.  Though this is cooked on a barbecue, it has a taste less like the typical BBQ chicken, and more like a rotisserie chicken with some smoke flavour.  This is actually a very easy method and even easier than the roasting method I described before.

Beer can chicken is a chicken cooked slowly on a barbecue standing up perched over a can of beer.  While this sounds like some bizarre hillbilly cooking experiment, this is actually a very sound culinary technique that actually roasts better than in an oven.  The first reason is that this allows the bird to be cooked standing up, so all sides receive the same amount of heat, assuring even cooking.  And the can of beer performs an absolutely critical role; providing a constant source of moisture inside the chicken throughout the cooking process.  So this avoids the ever-present problem of dry breast meat, which I addressed in that earlier post.  And finally, cooking chicken on a barbecue will provide some smoke flavour to the chicken.  Like in my previous roast chicken post, this technique will also work with other birds, however your barbecue will need enough clearance underneath the lid to be able to cook larger birds.

1 medium chicken, about 1.7 kilos

smoked paprika
granulated garlic
olive oil

1 can dark beer

Set up your barbecue for indirect cooking.  This procedure will vary depending on what type of grill you are using.  When I posted about BBQ brisket I described how this is done for a charcoal grill and suggested that a gas grill might be more troublesome.  For this application, a gas grill will work just as well and the set up would be easier.  Since the cooking time is shorter you shouldn’t need to worry about running out of gas and a gas grill has the added benefit of being easier to control the amount and location of heat.  For a charcoal grill, set up coals on the outsides of the grill and place a drip pan in the centre, underneath where the chickens will sit.  You will most likely not need to add another batch of coals as they should last to some degree for the entire cooking time needed.  But you should still keep an eye on things because conditions can always vary when using charcoal.  On a gas grill, put a drip pan under where the chicken will go, and do not light that section of the grill.  Usually you will only need to turn on one section of the grill to generate sufficient heat (though this may vary depending on your specific grill).  On a gas grill, remember that there are often small racks above the main cooking surface - these will need to be removed.

Combine the spices to make the rub.  Again, I am not really giving you any proportions, but paprika should make up a large component.  Lightly coat the chicken with olive oil, then coat with most of the rub, leaving about a teaspoon aside.  Massage the rub into the chicken on all sides and some inside the cavity.  Then take the dark beer (in most cases, darker beers are better for cooking as they have a lot more flavour to impart) and empty half the can (what you do with that half is up to you!)  Then add the reserved teaspoon of the rub to the half-full beer can.   It will foam up a bit but that’s OK, it will subside.  Then, when the coals are ready, add a foil-wrapped packet of soaked wood chips (on a charcoal grill, split the wood chips into two packets and add one to each side) and prepare the grill for cooking.  Then insert the beer can into the cavity of the bird and stand it up on the grill over the drip pan.  You will need to push the legs forward so the two legs and the base of the can form a tripod that will allow the chicken to remain upright.  Then close the lid and leave it alone for about 1hour and 15 minutes.  For a chicken of the size called for, this should be enough time to cook the bird through.  Carefully remove the chicken to a platter, still standing up, tent with foil and all the chicken to rest for about 10 minutes.  Then, using tongs, remove the can.  The liquid that remains in the can makes a nice gravy for this dish, though it may be a little thin for some tastes.  Carve the chicken (check my roast chicken post for instructions) and serve with a side dish of your choice and the gravy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It's Been A While

Here we are again, such a long time without posting.  But then this has been a very busy time for me.  In less than two weeks I will be moving out again – this time to Barrie – and will be beginning my studies at Georgian College as I enter the field of marketing research.  So this month has been about finding housing, figuring out my finances, and just getting mentally ready to go back to school and be ready to work at a level I haven’t been at in years.  I have been looking forward to this for quite some time now and it is almost here.

My new school

Now how will my starting school affect the blog?  Honestly I’m not sure.  On the one hand, I will be busier than I have been in a very long time, so I might well be too busy to write posts most of the time.  But on the other hand, I have a feeling that this move might actually motivate me to write more often.  Almost immediately after I moved back home over a year ago, the frequency of my posts dropped off dramatically, even though for much of the time I was not particularly busy.  I now believe part of the reason was that, as I am living with my parents, I talk to them every day and discuss various issues, and consequently have less need to write for the blog.  Now in Barrie I will again be living on my own, so I hope that will mean I will want to write more so I can share my thoughts with people, since my family is no longer living under the same roof.    So maybe more posts will be coming soon.  Or not.  But I have plans for more posts and at least one that should be coming up quite soon.  So keep checking and see what happens.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A New Way to Dive

For those of you interested in new scientific innovations or who like to SCUBA dive, this post is for you.  There is a coming development that will change the way diving safety is managed by offering a new way of calculating the risk divers face from Decompression Sickness while SCUBA diving.

I should let you know from the start that I do have a personal interest in this project.  The man behind these innovations is Dr. Saul Goldman, PhD, my father.  And I have also been working with him in constructing a website to publicize his findings.  This is in fact the major project I am undertaking until I start my graduate program in the fall.

Very briefly, Decompression Sickness (DCS) involves a set of physical and/or neurological symptoms that sometimes arise when diving underwater and breathing compressed air, then resurfacing without giving the body adequate time to safely eliminate the gas dissolved in blood and tissues.  For over 100 years, there have been protocols used to avoid DCS using various techniques such as slow ascents, and stops at shallow depths.  Originally this took the form of mathematical tables that divers had to understand and use when receiving their SCUBA certification, and is still part of the certification process.  Now this is all computerized, but the algorithms used are based on the same assumptions from decades ago.  I am not even going to go near all the details of how the current models are deficient, as I will probably get things wrong, and my dad would insist on complete (and VERY thorough) accuracy, which would involve a whole lot of stuff some people may have difficulty understanding.  But Dr. Goldman, being not only an avid and experienced SCUBA diver, but also having very strong backgrounds in chemistry and physics, was able to create an algorithm that not only better reflects the rates at which the body actually eliminates these gasses, but also conforms better than current models to actual data gathered regarding cases of DCS.  This new development, the Safe Advanced Underwater aLgorithm (or S.A.U.L. - clever, huh?) is fast becoming the talk of the scientific community, as he has presented his developments at conferences around the world and has published both in scientific, peer-reviewed journals and in diving magazines.  The next step will be to incorporate this into a dive computer and take this to market.  This is what the world will use to dive.  A better, safer way to dive.  Again there are many more details on the website,, you can click either on the link here or on my sidebar.  The website features publications containing all the scientific details, as well as plenty of readable and understandable information about what the SAUL model is and why it is so important.

While it is not my intention that this blog becomes a forum for promotions and advertising, I am keenly aware of the importance of using what means I have at my disposal.  The field I will be studying and eventually working in is Marketing Research, so the project of designing a website and generating traffic is some interesting practice for me before I start my studies.  The experience I got in learning how to build a website was very useful as well.  Putting up a blog here on blogger (or a similar free platform) is a very different experience that is little like the real thing.  While having this blog was useful in that I already was familiar with using CMS programs to post information online, building a site from the ground up and having full administrator controls is something else.  First, though I decided to run the site using WordPress software, it is not primarily a blog so I had to figure out how (and whether) I would be able to customize the setup sufficiently to deliver what was needed.  I have also begun to learn just a smattering of HTML and CSS coding, because I know there will be things that I want to customize further than the templates make possible.  And I am even delving into SEO tactics, though that appears to be quite a bit harder, though so important.  A website is not of much use unless people are able to find it, especially those who don’t already know it is there.

Also, if any other bloggers out there have an interest in this area, feel free to either link to this post or even repost it on your own site, with appropriate attribution of course.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Local Food Fest

Guelph is a city that takes environmental stewardship seriously.  Guelph often takes the lead in green innovations to waste management and champions local food producers.  I think part of this is because the University of Guelph is home to an agricultural college, a veterinary college, and a food science department.  There are many farm and garden co-ops in Guelph and nearby and several festivals that celebrate local food.  Back on June 24, I attended the Local Food Fest, held on the grounds of the Ignatius Jesuit Retreat.  This is quite an interesting institution right on the north edge of Guelph that does a wide variety of things.  First it is a religious retreat, where people can get away and take part in spiritual workshops and other activities.  The Ignatius centre is also a farm that grows a wide array of crops, mostly on a small scale.  It is also a Community Shared Agriculture co-operative, where people can buy shares in the farm and receive a regular basket of the various foods grown there.  They also have many plots devoted to community gardens, where local residents can cultivate a small garden plot with whatever they wish.  There are also various community initiatives that the centre undertakes, mostly involving the environment and community service.

Part of the Ignatius property.  The garden plots are community garden plots (click to enlarge)

One thing that impresses me about the Ignatius centre is that, while they obviously have a particular set of religious beliefs and this is meant to be a religious and spiritual centre, they do not seek to impose their beliefs on anyone, even those who attend the spiritual retreats.  They claim to welcome people of all religions and beliefs and from what little I was able to see, they live up to that.  The most obvious values and purposes they seem to espouse are not so much their religious principles, but more the concepts of environmental stewardship and responsible, sustainable agriculture.  Everything they do reflects on being environmentally aware.  So it is a natural that this is the location for the Local Food Fest.

While this was not a particularly huge event, there were many different things going on.  One aspect was like a one-day farmer’s market, with local food purveyors selling their product. As this was late June in southwestern Ontario, there were strawberries, some lettuce, radishes, green onions and only a few other things that were fresh from the ground.  Also many restaurants set up booths, and provided various good lunch and snack options.  There were other stalls selling bread, honey, preserves and other stuff.  There was even a local kitchenware store represented.

The tents for the market stalls

There were also workshops where people could learn how to start up various gardening-related projects.  I sat in on part of a workshop about growing your own food on a small plot, designed for urban dwellers with only a small backyard to use.  Other workshops included raising backyard chickens, hobbyist beekeeping, building and maintaining organic soils, and other things.  There were also several cooking demos throughout the day.  Two that I watched were making kimchi and making sourdough, in which I was particularly interested.  This past winter I have started experimenting with making sourdough bread, and was definitely interested in picking up some more pointers.  The presenter was from a local bakery I like very much and sells at the local farmer’s market and he gave some interesting advice and gave some useful tips on maintaining a sourdough starter and how certain details in the breadmaking process affect the finished product.  It gave me some valuable insight and some strategies for the next time I do baking.

The two white tents were for the musical acts and the cooking demos

There were also tours of Ignatius farm available.  There were wagon tours and you could also walk their network of trails on your own.  There was also information about the programs run by the Ignatius centre.  Finally, there were also several live musical acts and play areas for the kids.

One aspect I like about this, and about any event that is supposed to be for the public good, there was no set admission fee.  Like foodstock last year, this was a pay-what-you-can event, with the suggested donation set at $2, which I think was sensible given what was offered.  The wagon tours carried an additional suggested donation of $2 and, of course, the farm and restaurant booths set their own prices for their products.  You could still get to this event, located on the edge of the city, even if you did not have a car.  The local airport limousine service partnered with the event and offered a free shuttle from downtown and a community centre.  I was thinking of using this myself but, since the weather was unsettled and I thought I might want to leave at a different time than the shuttle was scheduled, I did take the car and found there was plenty of parking.

I can certainly see why this centre is a spiritual and meditative retreat.  It is just on the very edge of the city so, even though it is quite easy to get to and close to many people’s homes, it is such a peaceful area on a large expanse of land.  There are hiking trails through their large property, including one through a wetland and another past ruins of historical significance.  Seeing the property for the first time gave me a great deal of perspective on a local furor over a development issue several years ago.  I might write a post about this, but several years ago, Wal-Mart decided they wanted to open a store near here and the way everything went down is one of the reasons I refuse in all circumstances to shop at Wal-Mart.

Anyway, it was quite the enjoyable day and a celebration of Guelph’s agriculture and environmental awareness.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Restaurant Review - Painter's Hall Bistro

Yes, I’m still here and the blog is still alive.  I am working on several things right now and haven’t been writing as much.  But I have a few more things in the works now and hopefully the posts will be a little more frequent.  I doubt I will ever be back to the nearly 2 posts per week pace I had back in the beginning, but I will try to post a little more.

Two weeks ago, I made a trip to Barrie, Ontario.  I will be attending Georgian College in Barrie starting this fall and I was there to take care of some business.  I was also there two months ago for a Preview Day when I toured the school and met people in my program.  Some elements of those visits may show up in a future post but for now here is a review of the restaurant where I ate on a Thursday for lunch - Painter’s Hall Bistro.       

Painter’s Hall is a small restaurant that has been around for years right in the middle of Barrie’s downtown, just blocks from Kempenfelt Bay, around which Barrie’s core is wrapped.  At first glance, Barrie’s restaurant scene appeared to be rather underwhelming, and the content of online reviews seemed to indicate preferences for more pedestrian fare - in other words a dining scene like Guelph’s.  But I no longer have concerns - even if Painter’s Hall is in fact as good as Barrie gets, that is plenty good enough for me.

This was the best all around meal I have had in quite some time, and it was a lunch, a service that high end restaurants sometimes neglect.  On a first glance, the lunch menu seems ordinary, with nothing too daring or refined.  But the dishes themselves tell another story.  For an appetizer, I had seared scallops with pork belly, with some pickled carrots, a cider glaze and local microgreens.  I might consider doing some very slight nitpicking, in that I think, given the size of the two scallops on the plate, the portion of pork belly could have been slightly larger to create a more even distribution of the two proteins.  The scallops were incredibly fresh and flavourful, expertly seared and only barely cooked on the inside, making for a very elegant and impressive appetizer.

The main course was a chicken supreme (this is a skin-on chicken breast, boneless except for the first joint of the wing; it is also sometimes called an airline breast), stuffed with chicken forcemeat, roasted garlic, shallots and truffles.  It was served with barley pilaf, lingonberry jus, and local, seasonal vegetables.  I am usually reluctant to order chicken as a main, especially chicken breast, as it is so easy to overcook and be completely dry.  But it also rare that the chicken is the most expensive item on the menu, as this was, and I liked the accompaniments.  The perfect execution continued on this dish.  The chicken was perfectly seared, well seasoned and cooked to perfection.  Very moist and the stuffing was quite interesting.  At first it confused me a bit, but I believe it was because I hadn’t expected the truffle, which I assume was black truffle, which I have not had very often.  Also I had expected the roasted garlic to be more dominant, but it was really only a background flavour.  The barley was perfectly done and delicious, and the sauce was a smart match with the chicken.  I was impressed as it seems almost all the vegetables on the plate were local, particularly impressive as we were not quite yet into June.  Asparagus was a natural as it is asparagus season, but I was pleasantly surprised to also see some fiddleheads on the plate.  Another early spring vegetable, this is the shoot of a particular fern, so named because the edible portion is shaped like the head of a fiddle.  Another well-conceived dish, executed to perfection.

Finally dessert was best of all.  A warm flourless chocolate cake with the garnishes kept to a minimum - just a little raspberry coulis, mango coulis and a little fresh fruit.  Also topping the cake were some cooked (or maybe macerated?) raspberries and some poured sugar garnishes as well.  Well now that I write it, there appear to be several garnishes, but they were so minimal that it seemed like there was very little there other than the cake (the picture explains what I mean a bit better), which was absolutely the correct way to go.  This cake was completely flawless, the best course of the day, even with such a high standard already.

While there seemed to be only one server on duty for lunch, the service was exceptional.  Merv was very personable right from the beginning.  She was clearly selling the menu, but only selling to what I already wanted.  That is the sign of a truly gifted server.  As I had come in at the tail end of a slight rush, by the time the mains arrived I was the only customer still eating in that room.  She pointed me toward a wine that was decent quality considering I was limited to house wine (as I was ordering only a glass).  She was also very perceptive, noticing that my inquiries and compliments indicated some substantial food knowledge and I did indeed tell her I used to work in the industry.  And I also got to meet Greg Rennet, head chef of Painter’s Hall Bistro, who came out to my table.  I was actually contemplating asking whether the head chef was in the kitchen, because the execution had been so flawless it was actually un lunch-like, and indicated to me someone particularly skilled was running the kitchen.  And indeed I was right so I was able to convey my appreciation directly to the chef and talked with him for a few minutes.  (You may have noticed that I have not previously mentioned any names in other restaurant reviews.  Often I don’t pay attention to remember the names, especially as its not terribly important to me.  Here there was a very familiar and personal atmosphere, so I believe that naming names makes sense here). 

So I know there is at least one excellent restaurant in Barrie.  As with many other places I have reviewed, the prices can be a little steep, but they use top quality products, make everything in house, and deliver extraordinary quality.  And there is always lunch for slightly lower prices.  When I move to Barrie in the fall, I will definitely be returning to Painter’s Hall, this time for dinner, so I can fully experience the best of what they have to offer, which already looks so good.

Painters Hall Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Mega-Quarry Update

If you recall, last fall I wrote two posts about the proposal to create a mega-quarry on prime farm land in Dufferin County, not far from where I live, and about Foodstock, a celebrity chef fundraiser to raise money and awareness for the cause.  I had mentioned a pending environmental review, but there was also a revision ordered to the Aggregate Resources Act, that lays out the manner by which quarries are to be set up and operated in the Province.  On Monday, I received an email from the Canadian Chef's Congress Foodstock Committee, saying that they had received word that the review was scheduled to start on that very day.  This is prime planting season, so the affected farmers will not be able to attend these meetings, and the time allotted for public consultation is too small.  Below is the email sent to me.

Foodstock Call to Action


Dearest Friends in Arms, As you know, back on September 1st the government promised that they would undertake a review of the Aggregate Resources Act. We have consistently attempted to get information on the process and when it would start, and just found out that the review will start in Toronto on Monday, May 7, 2012. Not only is the hearing taking place in Toronto (a place from which no aggregate is extracted), it is also taking place during prime planting season (virtually omitting the participation of farmers and others whose livelihoods depend on the preservation of farmland). It feels very tricky and we suspect that it is. The government has set aside just 4 short sessions to gather public input and we'd like to create a groundswell of participation to jam these sessions (there are currently only 12 hours allocated to public comment) so that they have to extend and expand the hearing. This is our chance to be heard and to share input on the future of how aggregate is extracted in this province. People wanting to voice their concerns have been asked to contact Sylvia Przezdziecki and Tamara Pomanski (their email addresses and a sample note are below). Please consider taking the time to write to them to request a chance to speak, or to voice your concerns about the destruction of farmland for aggregate.  Please also consider sending this email along to your friends--our hope is to extend the hearing and to prove to the government that we can't be caught unprepared.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” —Edmund Burke

Michael Stadtlander, President
Canadian Chefs' Congress and on behalf of the Foodstock Committee members

Sample email

Subject: Public Participation: Aggregate Resources Act

Dear Sylvia and Tamara,

I am an Ontario resident and taxpayer.  I ask that the Government of Ontario, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Standing Committee established to review the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA) amend the ARA to address the following values:

1.  Make conservation of aggregate, a non-renewable resource, a priority over approval of new extraction sites.  Conservation can occur through aggregate recycling and use of alternative materials.
2.  Reserve virgin aggregate, a non-renewable resource, for use within Canada.
3. Prohibit aggregate extraction below the water table without a full Environmental Assessment and full understanding of the impact on all areas, near and far.
4. Prohibit aggregate extraction below the water table in drinking water source areas.
5.  Develop a process and guidelines for identifying and designating new Specialty Crop Areas to safeguard unique agricultural land resources.  Prohibit aggregate extraction in Specialty Crop Areas.
6. Conduct a thorough study of all existing aggregate reserves in Ontario.  We cannot know what we need until we know what we have.
7. Develop an “Aggregate Master Plan” and disallow new aggregate mining licenses within the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area, Oak Ridges Moraine and Green Belt until the “Aggregate Master Plan” has been approved by the province.
8.  Provide an assessment of the cumulative affects (dust, noise, air quality, traffic emissions; effects on water) of the “Aggregate Master Plan” on Ontario residents by district.
9.  Require that new quarry proposals demonstrate the need for additional aggregate resource extraction in meeting the demands of the Ontario market.
10.  Mandate that an Environmental Assessment occur for all new or expanding aggregate operations.
11.  Realign the cost of virgin aggregate to reflect reality.  Economically, aggregate is a low-priced, heavy-weight commodity that takes the bulk of its cost from transportation. Today, however, the price of virgin aggregate must include the activism necessary by residents to fight for their best interest despite the elected and public institutions designed to represent and protect the public interest.  As well, the cost must encompass the environmental cost on residents.  In other words the market cost for virgin aggregate is unrealistically cheap. Create a management system that works for residents and price the product accordingly.
12.  Address what will happen to the operators of small aggregate resources if a mega-quarry becomes the sanctioned approach.  What will small operators do when they are subjected to the monopolistic power of the goliath-like mega-quarry?

Until such time as the above noted issues are sufficiently addressed, I do not consider the ARA an up-to-date and relevant piece of legislation.


Copyright © 2012 Canadian Chefs' Congress Ltd., All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you attended the Canadian Chefs' Congress's FoodStock in 2011.
Our mailing address is:
Canadian Chefs' Congress Ltd.
148 Pearson Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M6R 1G5

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I definitely agree with what is said here and with the importance of making sure this isn't all kept quiet so big business can do whatever they want to cropland, not to mention the watershed.  I will be acting on this.  The email also asks that this email be sent to friends, so here it is.  And I hope those readers who are actually residents of Ontario will also decide they want their voices heard so the government can know the environment and the food supply is at least as important as building materials.

Oh, also as a foodie and former cook, I also consider it cool and a bit of an honour that I have a communication from Chef Michael Statdlander, one of the best chefs in this area.  Sure, it isn't an actual signature and not addressed to me directly, but still...well, I like it.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Gender and Transgender

Before I begin this post, I should say that this post took an incredibly long time to write.  I have been trying to write this post for about 5 months now, seemingly reaching dead ends several times and shelving it for long periods.  Because this is an issue I still have trouble understanding, it has been very difficult to get my thoughts in order and to make sure it doesn’t say things I did not intend.  That said, I think I am happy with the way it finally came out and it was worth not giving up on the idea.

In the area of gay rights, generally grouped as LGBT, or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered, acceptance of transgendered individuals is often considered the final frontier of widespread discrimination.  For example, there was recently a Canadian contestant in the Miss Universe pageant who was disqualified because she was not a “natural born female”, whatever that means.  I guess that is probably because being trans is not as common as being gay, so there are fewer of them.  Even in the gay community they often are marginalized.  I have to admit that, until recently, it is something that seemed so weird and abnormal to me that I didn’t really consider it as equivalent to homosexuality, in the sense of it being a fundamental part of one’s identity.  Part of the problem is that I thought of this as just feeling uncomfortable with who you are or not liking yourself.  Thus I considered this an issue that could be treated psychologically, or by not being so strictly bound to traditional gender roles.  After all, not liking sports and liking to play with dolls does not make a boy a girl and the solution to misogyny is not to become a man.  So through either therapy and/or social change, I was of the opinion that this would take care of the issue of people being “transgendered”.  Now I believe I have a better understanding of the issues involved and I will get to that shortly.

First though, I think my biggest barrier to understanding the nature of the issue is  the same barrier that much of society has to acceptance of gays and other sexual minorities.  If it is not a situation that applies to me, these differences can be very hard to understand.  I do not have the slightest concept of what it would mean to be transgendered; I have never thought of myself as anything other than male nor have I ever wanted to be any other gender, even for a moment.  I know being male  is the way I am supposed to be and I am quite happy with that.  The concept of feeling otherwise is quite alien to me and I have difficulty understanding how someone could feel they are the “wrong” gender.  Likewise, someone who is straight would have a very hard time understanding how a man could be sexually attracted to another man.  To that challenge, we answer: it is who we are and how we are made. 

But is that the same for the transgendered?  It now seems quite clear that is the case.  What really helped me to understand was several recent stories about children and gender.  Over the past few months, there have been many stories in the media regarding the experiences of children growing up in a home where gender roles are reexamined, and several in which children are convinced they are the wrong gender.  There are so many different stories out there.  One was a story in the Toronto Star last year (see what I mean about how long this took to write?) about two parents who were determined to raise their latest child gender-free.  They would not tell even their immediate extended family the sex of the new baby and were determined to provide equal access to the toys or activities typically associated with either gender.  I’m not sure I entirely agreed with their approach, but I do understand their goal, as learned behaviour and acculturation is a big part of how a child learns to be a male or a female.  For instance, their older son identifies as, and is acknowledged as, a male, has certain preferences and characteristics than many people would associate with girls, like preferring long hair and other “girly” characteristics.  While he certainly identifies as a boy, some people might look at him and think he is a girl, based on what he looks like and the activities he prefers.  Since this child had many problems resolving gender identity issues, my theory is this family wanted to avoid this with their next child and make the attempt to entirely sever the connection between sex and gender.  This way, whatever preferences the child may have, the gender expectations placed on children will not be an additional pressure on the child to ignore his/her nature and conform to whatever society considers acceptable.  I disagree somewhat with this approach.  While the goal is commendable, I believe it loses sight of reality.  The reality is that nobody lives in a bubble.  Kids will go to school, and even before that, they will be in day care and play groups where kids will learn that there are boys and girls and boys do “boy things” while girls do “girl things”.  While that is not necessarily the way things should be looked at, that is the reality that all kids are faced with.  Although I must say that part of my opposition to this approach was related to reporting that was not fully accurate.  In later interviews, the parents confirmed they were not in fact ignoring the fact the new baby is one particular sex and that the full immediate family was aware, but that they simply did not want any outside influences directing how the new child will see their gender identity.  I personally believe this is something of a Quixotic quest, tilting at windmills that cannot be taken down.  Societal conventions are all pervasive and I believe it is naive to think they can be changed by simply rejecting them.

Still, there are some children who know their biological sex does not match their internal gender and the recent media stories have shown me that for many children this is a long standing problem that has existed from a very early age, far before puberty.  One criticism of transgender identity has been that some people who claim to be transgendered are really gay and they believe they are the wrong gender because they are attracted to people of the same sex and they may think  they have more in common with the opposite gender.  Until recently, my opinion was that if these people simply were not as intransigent in their assumptions of how men and women are supposed to behave, gender dysphoria would either no longer exist, or at least become far more unusual.  But now I am hearing about stories of boys convinced they should be girls and vice versa since the age of 4 or 5.  And it is clearly not role playing or being unsure about what defines a boy or girl as these attitudes most often do not go away over time, but rather get more intense.  There was even one story about identical twin boys, one of whom identified as a girl starting at a very early age.  Now in their early teens, the transgendered twin is almost ready to start taking female hormones so she can grow up as a woman and not a man.  Interestingly, her brother (the other twin) is her strongest defender and seemed to understand the issue better than even the parents.  Even he knew his twin wasn’t really his brother but rather his sister.  And it was not any kind of judgement or loaded statement - simply a matter of fact.  He understood that in every way (except for the parts, I guess) his twin sibling is a girl and always knew that she was. 

So maybe gender identity is more than whether you like playing with guns or with dolls or if you’re attracted to boys or to girls.  Then what is it?  Damned if I know.  As I said earlier, I have a hard time understanding this since such a feeling is so foreign to my own experience.  If these dysphoria issues are appearing almost as soon as a child can communicate full thoughts, it is probably something inborn.  So is this genetics?  Well, the case I just mentioned involves two identical twins; by definition they have identical genetic structures so any differences must be the result of other factors (or perhaps other factors interacting with certain genetic predispositions).  By the way, the same is most likely true of sexual orientation, as there are known instances of identical twins where one is gay and the other is straight.  But again, it must be clarified that, just because something is not genetic in origin does not mean that it is something changeable.  We don’t really know how our mental characteristics come to be - and it seems not all is the result of conscious or even unconscious learning.

So I guess this post doesn’t really have an ending.  But since I think I was trying to answer a question or maybe solve a problem, there can’t be a real ending because I don’t really have any answers.  All I have is a bit more understanding and respect.

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Passover Story

While I don’t necessarily observe all the Jewish holidays, Passover (or Pesach) is one that is always important to me and I try to always celebrate it with my family (yes I realize that Passover ended over a week ago, but now is when my post was finished, so here it is).  Even when I was living away from home I would usually try to get home for at least the Passover Seder, which is on the first night (well technically there are two but we’ll get back to that).  We are not an especially traditional family and, though we have altered some of the ritual practices to find a tradition that works for us, we do keep more of the traditions here than at other times.

Passover celebrates the freedom of the ancient Israelites (the forerunners to present day Jews) from slavery in Egypt.  It also serves as a holiday to welcome the arrival of spring and, in ancient times, even served as the start of the Jewish Year (though now the accepted New Year is Rosh Hashanah which occurs in the fall).  While the exact timing will always vary, Passover is often close in time to Easter, and this is no coincidence.  It is generally accepted by biblical scholars that the “last supper” of Jesus and his disciples was actually the Passover Seder.

The Passover Seder itself is a ceremonial meal replete with symbols representing the story of Passover and the purpose of its existence is to tell the story of Passover to the next generation.  Most often, we read from the Haggadah, a book that sets out the specific order in which things are done and which prayers are said at what time.  Now my dad is definitely not into prayers so, although we used a traditional text for some time in my early years, we switched to something more progressive many years ago.  From about the age of 10 until my Bar Mitzvah I received my Jewish education with a Toronto-based organization that billed itself a Secular Jewish Association.  What this essentially meant, is that while they kept a Jewish identity and some traditions, there was pretty much no discussion of God and almost no purely religious aspect.  It was with this group that I had my Bar Mitzvah which would really be more accurately described as a school graduation ceremony. First it was a group event.   No Torah readings, no prayers but plenty about what we have learned about Judaism and being Jewish.  I must say that I really needed that school at that point in my life, as I really didn’t understand what it meant to be Jewish; all I really comprehended was that I was not Christian like everyone else at school (hmm, knowing I’m different but not knowing how - it seems this pattern keeps coming up through my life!!)  But this experience taught me to have pride in my background and allowed me to define myself not by what I’m not, but by what I am (again, great practice for coming out - it just took me a really long time to see it).

So where were we?  Oh, that’s right, Passover.  Before I got off on that tangent, I was going to explain that when we joined that organization, they had produced their own Haggadah and the content seemed to reflect our values very well and that is the version we use to this day.  The point I’m trying to make by telling you this is that sometimes we can get bogged down by the old traditions that we do just because we are supposed to do them and this can obscure the intended objective of that tradition.  I have a guess that this is one reason I am meeting so many people who still claim to have a spiritual side but have pretty much abandoned established religion.  I think that learning about Jewish traditions and history has taught me that letting go of that identity has imperiled the survival of the Jewish people so, even if I do not accept some tenets of the faith or some of the ritual practices, I am and will always be Jewish.  I might suggest that an alternative to just declaring oneself non-religious might be to take a closer look at your faith and do some cherry-picking; making your own traditions by keeping what works and either eliminating what doesn’t or changing it so that it does.  In fact, a family member shared something recently from a rabbi that advocates doing exactly that, albeit with a starting viewpoint quite a bit different than my own.  I will provide the link here though you should be warned that those of you who do not know much about Judaism and all the traditions associated with Passover will likely be lost.  There are even some things in there that I don’t understand.  But the basic point he is making is that we should be examining the Seder traditions and, for it to be meaningful, we cannot get stuck in an endlessly repeating pattern but instead we should be fulfilling the goal of retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt by making sure we do not turn it into a bore or a meaningless rite, but make it a time for learning and truly examining the lessons of not just this holiday, but all our religious practices.  To read the article click here

It seems this post just does NOT want to be about the Seder itself.  Oh, well I bet this is more interesting anyway.  Still, I wanted to share a bit about the Seder itself because Passover is about telling the story and explaining the meaning of everything that is done.  Very briefly, it is the story of the Book of Exodus: the Israelites were enslaved by Egypt in the days of the Pharaoh and it came to be that Pharaoh wanted to keep this slave population from growing.  Then Moses received a command from God to lead his people and demand their freedom from Pharaoh (this part is not really mentioned in our Haggadah, but reference is only made to the people being oppressed and demanding release).  The story goes that, when Pharaoh refused, 10 plagues beset the Egyptians and Pharaoh relented.  All the Israelites left Egypt in a hurry.  But then Pharaoh reconsidered and pursued the escaping Hebrews to the Sea of Reeds (or possibly the Red Sea - there is a certain vagary in the translation and in reconciling with a physical location).  Then, miraculously, the waters parted allowing the Israelites to cross then, while the Egyptians were crossing, the waters came back drowning the pursuers. 

Because they departed in a hurry, the story is that they had no time to wait for their bread to rise before baking it to have food for the journey, which is why we do not eat any leavened products (especially bread) throughout Passover, eating matzah instead.  There is also no baking or cooking with flour or most other grains, and no grain-based alcohol.  For some sections of the Jewish community, rice and legumes are also proscribed.  Despite these difficulties I actually enjoy baking on Passover, particularly because of those very interesting challenges.  But, yes you can bake cake on Passover.  Since no leavening agents are permitted, sponge cake is the method of choice, as the only leavening present in such a cake is beaten egg white.  As flour cannot be used, the substitute is a blend of matzah cake meal (which is matzah ground to meal, then ground further and sifted to make a very fine powder) and potato starch.  Ground nuts are also very commonly used, most often walnuts or almonds.

The matzah is one of three elements of the Seder that are considered especially important to be explained, the others being the pesach and the maror.  Pesach, which is also one of the names of the holiday, refers to the lamb that was sacrificed on the eve of the final plague on the Egyptians.  The Angel of Death was to come and kill all the first born sons of Egypt and the Israelites would sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on the doors of their homes as a sign for the plague to pass over their homes (hence the other name).  In the days of the Great Temple in Jerusalem, animal offerings were made at the temple, and a lamb was offered on Passover.   Finally the maror is bitter herbs, the eating of something bitter at the Seder.  The obvious symbolism is to remember that the lives of the slaves were bitter so we must remember that by tasting the bitterness ourselves.  Different families use different items to represent bitterness, but the most common these days is probably horseradish.  Now the interesting thing is that I don’t consider horseradish to be particularly bitter.  It certainly is very pungent and sharp and it can be painful to eat but the bitterness is not at the forefront.  However, what my family has done (this does go back to previous generations) is to take a whole root and soak it in water at room temperature for at least a couple weeks before Passover, until it begins to sprout.  The germination and growing of sprouts does in fact make the horseradish more distinctly bitter and maybe a little stronger too.  Other possibilities for maror include endive, radicchio or a similar bitter lettuce.  A long time ago, I heard at some point some Jewish families would use romaine as their bitter herb.  Now who really considers romaine lettuce bitter?  I think this was part of a trend to not have anything eaten at the Seder to be the slightest bit unpleasant to eat, particularly for the kids.  But the most important part of Passover is teaching the kids and I think it is a worthwhile lesson that the lives of the Hebrew slaves were bitter and quite unpleasant.  The maror should not be a joy to eat - it is supposed to be reminiscent of the bitterness of slavery.

There are other symbols on the Seder plate too.  Haroset is a mildly sweet paste made of apples, nuts, wine and a bit of sugar and cinnamon (there are other variations too) that represents the mortar used by the Israelites to build monuments for Pharaoh.  It is eaten together with matzah and maror.  There is the z’roah, a roasted shank bone, ideally of lamb, that represents the pesach sacrifice.  Baytzah, an egg, represents new life and rebirth of springtime.  Karpas is a green herb that represents springtime and the new growth.  The Karpas is dipped in salt water when eaten, the water representing tears cried by the slaves.

The Seder Plate - Clockwise from top:  Karpas, Baytzah, Maror, Z'roah, Haroset

There are so many more details regarding the Seder, from the four cups of wine, to the cup for the prophet Elijah, to the afikoman, to the story of the four sons and so much more, some of which varies by family or regional origin.  But for our family, we complete the Seder by following along in the Haggadah, which includes various stories, quotations and songs, some drawing parallels to modern day issues as well.  More traditional Haggadot (that is the plural of Haggadah) would have more of a focus on prayers.  Then we eat boiled eggs also with the salt water.  Next comes chicken soup.  This is quite commonly served with matzah balls, but mostly we just have the soup with crumbled bits of matzah.  Then comes the main course.  Some of the most frequent meals we have are either roast chicken or a pot roast brisket (of course I have recipes now on this blog for either one)

As you can see, I could go on and on for pages and pages about what Passover and the Seder are about and what lessons can be learned.  But since this is getting quite long, and I think I mentioned the most important things, I will simply finish by saying that perhaps the ultimate lesson is to not take our freedom for granted but rather to celebrate our freedom and to work towards a day when everyone can be free.

Oh, wait a minute!  It seems I said I’d come back to the part about there being two Seders.  Yes, tradition does dictate that a Seder be held on each of the first two nights of Pesach.  Now this makes sense if you have a large extended family living reasonably close by so one Seder would be at one house and the second at another house, quite likely with different guests (this is definitely a holiday where hospitality and inviting guests is encouraged).  That does not really apply to our family and doing the same Seder with only the three of us on consecutive days really makes no sense.  So we only have the one.