Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Strawberry Season Signals Summer

It may not seem like summer just yet, but here is another post from Quest volunteer Talia that will make it even harder to wait for warmer weather.

As the summer months continue to approach, BC's local berries are becoming more plentiful. Starting last week, local strawberries began to make appearances at local grocers and farmers' markets. While the strawberry season tends to be short, there is absolutely no shortage of recipes to incorporate these delicious and nutrient-rich foods into our diets. British Columbia accounts for one quarter of Canada's strawberry production. This represents over 3 million kg of strawberries every year! Most of the strawberries grown in BC come from the Fraser Valley. Buying local berries is not only economical, it also supports our local farmers. When preserved properly, they can be enjoyed well after the season is over. Here are a couple of recipes to get your berry juices flowing:

Strawberry Summer Cake (Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
1 1/2 cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup (200 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup (118 ml) milk
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 pound (450 grams) strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-inch pie pan. Whisk flour or flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into prepared pie plate. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer (though I had to overlap a few to get them all in). Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. (Gooey strawberries on the tester are a given.) Let cool in pan on a rack.

Frozen Strawberries

Freezing whole strawberries is an excellent and economical way to incorporate local strawberries into your diet year round. Frozen starwberries can be thrawed when needed an incorporated into smoothies, pancakes, baking, etc.

Before freezing, remove the stems and caps. Sort, wash and drain the fruit carefully. Do not soak in water, or the strawberry will lose flavour and nutrients.

Freeze strawberries individually in a single layer on cookie sheets. After completely frozen (about 24h) place into freezer containers or flexible freezer bags.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Freezer jam is an excellent way to have strawberries all year round. This type of jam can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 weeks and will keep in the freezer for up to 1 year.

2 cups prepared fruit (buy about 1 qt. fully ripe strawberries)
4 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl
1 pouch CERTO Fruit Pectin
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Rinse clean plastic containers and lids with boiling water. Dry thoroughly.
STEM and crush strawberries thoroughly, one layer at a time. Measure exactly 2 cups prepared fruit into large bowl. Stir in sugar. Let stand 10 min., stirring occasionally.

Mix pectin and lemon juice in small bowl. Add to strawberry mixture; stir 3 min. or until sugar is dissolved and no longer grainy. (A few sugar crystals may remain.)

Fill all containers immediately to within 1/2 inch of tops. Wipe off top edges of containers; immediately cover with lids. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours. Jam is now ready to use. Refrigerate up to 3 weeks or freeze up to 1 year. Thaw in refrigerator.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quest x Vancouver Farmers Markets

The folks at Vancouver Farmers Markets offer a great initiative for community organizations whose mandates pertain to food systems: Community Tables. These tables are booths just like the other vendors have, but no food is for sale. In true Farmers Market tradition though, there are still conversations started and information shared. Quest Food Exchange will have educational outreach booths at four markets this summer.

I worked the first Community Table at Trout Lake on June 11th. The Trout Lake location sees up to 5,000 people each Saturday! Everyone I spoke to (a fraction of the 5,000) was very interested in what Quest does and many wanted to know how they could help. I was happy to have these intrigued minds willing to listen to me wax poetic about Quest.

I personally enjoyed this opportunity to interact with people at the Farmers Market. I find that those shopping at the markets are generally inclined to care about food security, whether or not they know much about it at first.

There is always the continued struggle regarding ways to engage those who are not interested in food security. I believe it is important to talk to as many people as possible, and hope that they spread the word to friends who have yet to learn about how relevant this topic really is.

This outreach is not necessarily about Quest, but about being a part of the community. My goal is to make people think twice about their relationship with the food they eat. The more people who are informed, the better chance we have to make changes to our current food system.

Other Farmers Markets dates I will be at are the following:

June 22 at Main Street Market (3-7pm)
June 26 at Kits Market (10am-2pm)
July 2 at West End Market (10am-2pm)

If you can make it down to one of these markets, be sure to say hello. I’d love to meet you!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gluten-Free Banana Bread Recipe

This post comes from a new volunteer at Quest, Kathleen. Kathleen is learning how to accommodate her gluten intolerance, and has showed some interest in posting recipes that are gluten-free. Without further ado, here is her first recipe!

Hearty and Healthy Banana Bread

This is a great way to use up leftover or overripe bananas. Instead of letting brown bananas to waste I freeze them and then thaw them when I have time to make this healthy and delicious snack or breakfast food. Made from gluten-free whole grain flour mix, this loaf will surprise you as I have been told by non-Celiacs it is even better than the normal wheat flour recipes. It is high in potassium, vitamin B, lower in fat, and the brown rice flour and banana make it a decent source of soluble fibre to jump start your day. This can help normalize movement through the digestive tract and reduce IBS symptoms. And lastly I recently discovered that for anyone suffering from depression or low mood, bananas contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid that can be converted to serotonin, which then can lead to improved mood. So enjoy!

Yield: 12 muffins or 2 small loafs

2 cups GF Flour Mix* (see below for detailed ingredients or use premixed flour that has been appearing at Quest Food lately for only a dollar a box)

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 packed cup very ripe chopped banana (about 2 medium bananas)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

2 large eggs

1/2 cup milk (recommend low fat or for those with dairy restrictions try almond/soy milk )

1/2 cup canola oil


1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Position rack in center of oven. Grease muffin pan with cooking spray.

2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt, and cinnamon in large mixing bowl.

3. Add bananas and walnuts; stir to coat evenly.

4. Combine milk and oil in small bowl; remove 1 tablespoon of combined liquid and discard it. Beat in eggs. Add liquids to banana mixture and stir until just blended.

5. Pour into loaf pans or fill muffin pans until 2/3 full.

6. Bake 45-50 minutes for loaf or 18-25 minutes for muffins (They should be golden brown on top). Remove from pan and serve immediately or cool on a rack.

7. Optional extras - I love to add brown sugar and cinnamon to the top before baking, and as a special treat, try mixing in chocolate chips/or chopped chocolate or nuts.

*GF Flour Mix (or use premix of gluten free flour boxed available at Quest)

2 cups brown rice flour

2/3 cup potato starch

1/3 cup tapioca starch

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Spot Prawns: A Sustainable Local Delicacy

A post from Quest volunteer, Talia, on her introduction to BC spot prawns.

This week, I had my first spot prawn experience. In the past few years, I had stopped eating shrimp as I had learned that the international shrimping industry was wreaking havoc on the environment. Spot prawns are native to BC waters and are wild (rather than farmed), sustainable, and less vulnerable to fishing pressures than other types of seafood. Sixty percent of the prawns we consume in North America are pond-raised in Asia and Latin America by an industry that is clear-cutting mangrove forests and causing poverty for coastal dwellers.

In the early 1980's coastal farmers in countries such as Thailand (now the world's largest producer of pond raised shrimp) learned of the profit to be made in the shrimping industry. Rice farmers began to convert their coastal farm properties into shrimp ponds, clearing the mangrove forests which once surrounded these lands. Mangroves are rich ecosystems which support many species of fish. It is estimated that up to 90% of commercial seafood species which live in tropical waters spend some part of their lives in the mangroves. Mangroves have also been credited with protecting against coastline erosion and flooding. Since the 1980's, is has been estimated that 35% of the world's mangrove forests have been lost. Up to a third of this loss is attributed to the shrimping industry.

In addition to its impact on mangrove forests, the shrimping industry has other harmful environmental consequences. The waste water from farmed shrimp ponds contains large amounts of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics which have negative effects when dumped into the environment. Typical shrimp farms can only be used for a few years. Once abandoned, the farm lands can no longer be used due to high levels of acid and toxic chemicals in the soil. One study suggested that it could take up to 30 years to rehabilitate abandoned shrimp farm lands from the environmental devastation they have caused. Many have suggested that mangrove ecosystems would assist in the rehabilitation of these lands. However, many of these forests have also been destroyed.

While the international shrimping industry proved lucrative for thousands of farmers, the short life span of shrimp ponds seriously impacted small-scale coastal farmers who could not afford to obtain more land once what they had was rendered unusable. Thailand's east coast is now baron land left with nothing but toxic ponds and contaminated water.

The shrimping industry in North America has its own set of problems, even when it comes to catching wild shrimp. The trawler method used to catch shrimp in the wild is estimated to result in the death of one to 20 pounds of fish for every pound of shrimp caught. In addition, trawlers have been linked to the death of thousands of sea turtles a year. New regulations have led to changes in trawling methods. These changes have reduced the number of sea turtles and other large sea creatures caught by the trawls, however, smaller fish continue to be negatively impacted by these shrimping methods.

I have recently learned, however, that not only are spot prawns local to the Vancouver area, but they are fast-growing, short lived, and have a high reproductive capacity, making them less vulnerable to fishing pressures. Spot prawn fisherman use baited nets so the amount of other species caught or affected is relatively low. A number of regulations have also been put in place to ensure the health and sustainability of the spot prawn population. These include limits on licenses, single haul per day limitations, and regulations to ensure that other species are not negatively affected in spot prawn traps.

Spot prawn season begins in May and only lasts for approximately 80 days. For more information on local and sustainable spot prawns as well as other seafood, visit the SeaChoice website at SeaChoice is a watchdog organization concerned with the health and sustainability of our fisheries and oceans.