Category Archives: Food and Travel

Keeping it local with a global impact: The University of Alberta’s Green and Gold Garden.

Did you know the University of Alberta Farm (115th Street and 60th Ave) has fresh produce available for purchase Tuesday evenings and mid-day on Saturdays starting in late June?

This community garden has been running since 2009.  Since I just heard about the garden late last summer, I thought I would do a feature story about the University’s Green and Gold Garden to help get the word out.

As well as providing the community with access to fresh, local, spray-free vegetables, and handicrafts the Green and Gold garden uses all of its profits to support the support the Tubahumurize Project, “a non-profit organization in Rwanda that provides socially and economically marginalized women with counseling, life-skills coaching, health care education, and opportunities for sustainable income generating activities.”  In fact last year the garden raised almost $25, 000!

So supporting the Green and Gold Garden means that you can buy fresh local produce and handicrafts and make an impact in the lives of woman and their community on the other side of the world!

In order to find out more about the garden I asked Shirley Ross, one of the volunteer organizers, to tell me a little bit more about the garden.

The garden was started by Sarah Bowen and Ed Parada after they moved to Edmonton in 2008 from Winnipeg. Sarah and Ed had raised money for a project in Rwanda (Tubahumurize) for a couple of years before they moved to Edmonton. Ed loves to garden, and they had a large garden on land a couple of hours drive from Winnipeg. They made extra vegetables from their garden available to friends and co-workers in exchange for donations to Tubahumurize. Sarah is an Assoc. Professor with the School of Public Health.  She and Ed bought a house near the U of A farm in 2008, and they approached the farm manager about getting a piece of land to start a community garden that would raise money for Rwanda. The faculty of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences  and the School of Public Health became co-supporters of the garden.

The selling of handicrafts is a secondary activity. Tubahumurize supports vocational training for young people – a 10-month sewing skills course offered to a group of 20 students started in 2009. We sell some of the things made by the students and the graduates of the program. We also sell some beads made by some of the women who participate in programs offered by Tubahumurize.

The garden is cash only and  hours will be posted on the website and emailed to those who have signed up to be on the customer list once the garden opens this season.  Spring has had such a late start this year that produce may not be available until July.  The produce is not priced, but the public is asked to donate fair market prices for them: basically whatever you would pay for similar produce at a farmer’s market.  You do not have to commit to taking vegetables each week, but can come when you like and pick whatever vegetables you want.

The garden is run by volunteers and the volunteers also make donations for any produce that they are taking home.  If you are interested in volunteering at the garden you can email green&gold@sph.ualberta.ca.  This year volunteers started at May 14th, but you can start anytime.

As well as being run by volunteers the seeds and equipment that the garden needs are donated.  This year the garden received large donations of seed from Livingston Seed and Mr. Fothergill Seeds.  They also received a grant from the University Sustainability office to buy some much needed materials.

Since Shirley works in the same department as I do, I was aware that she took a trip a trip to Africa this past winter.  I knew that it had to do with the Green and Gold garden, but I wasn’t sure how her trip to Africa tied in with what was happening here in Edmonton.

Shirley was in Zimbabwe from January 14-26 participating in evaluating conservation farming projects of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the United Church of Canada.  She stopped in Rwanda on her way back January 26-29 to visit the women’s projects supported by the Green & Gold garden.

The following excerpt from the February 2011 Green and Gold Garden Newsletter sums up her trip nicely:

Shirley Ross, a founding volunteer at the Green & Gold garden, visited Tubahumurize in January, when work on an agricultural research project took her to Africa. During her visit, Jeanne Mwiriliza, Executive Director of Tubahumurize, presented Shirley with a wooden plaque thanking the Green and Gold Garden volunteers for their support. Jeanne designed the plaque and had a local artist make it. (We’ll be displaying this beautiful plaque at the garden this summer.)

Jeanne explained how support from the Green and Gold Garden has provided  a lifeline in supporting the women of Tubahumurize. Without our support, they may have had to close the Centre and the programs. At two of the Tubahumurize group counseling sessions Shirley heard stories of women who survived horrific experiences during the genocide of 1994. Many women continue to deal with poverty, health and family problems. The group counseling sessions provide a safe place for them to share their stories and to receive support from counselors and the other women. Shirley also met the sewing students at Tubahumurize and brought back various items that will be for sale at upcoming garden events.

Shirley has many great memories of visiting Tubahumerize during her trip to Rwanda this past winter and of working in the garden and talking with volunteers and customers. 

I hope you can join me and many other Edmontonians this summer by taking a trip to the the Green and Gold Community Garden and finding out what it is all about! 

For more information about the wide variety of crops available and how to get to the garden check out the garden’s website.

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Eating out in Santa Monica vegetarian style

Rather than get my seedlings planted outside this Victoria Day weekend, my best friend and I spent the long weekend a few blocks from the pier in Santa Monica, California.

It was great. We left our husbands and dogs at home and spent 4 full days cycling, hiking, shopping, and, of course, eating.

Although I missed EPC and Coco, after spending 4 mornings at Urth Cafe on Main Street in Santa Monica, it was quite disappointing to return home to drip coffee and granola.

There are a few different Urth Cafe locations around the LA area and I highly recommend giving one of them a try (translate: don’t miss it!). They had a wide selection of egg, pastry and whole grain breakfast options. I enjoyed the breakfast burrito one morning and then got stuck in a wonderful oatmeal-with-fresh-strawberries-rut for the next three days. My friend – a tad more adventurous than I – enjoyed poached eggs, quiche, and an omelette.

And the coffee. Ah, the coffee. Absolutely wonderful.

Urth Cafe was so great that we dared not try anything else and so, even though we were on holidays, we quickly got into a comfortable morning routine. Just so EPC wouldn’t be jealous I brought him home a package of their famous granola.

A few blocks further south on Main Street sits the tapas restaurant Manchego. The namesake cheese and standard quince preserve – membrillo – can be found on the menu. I had been wanted to try membrillo since I came across a recipe in one of the fall issues of Vegetarian Times, so we started off with a cheese plate. The membrillo was quite nice with the cheese and baguette, so if I come across quince this fall and I may try my hand at making it.

We then moved on to zucchini rolls filled with feta and pecans, a spanish omelette, and then I enjoyed their delicious gazpacho. The spanish omelette was disappointing and a little rubbery. Perhaps it had been microwaved or reheated?

This was a sign of things to come as the dessert that we ordered was absolutely horrible. We ordered Tiramisu and when it arrived it was still slightly frozen. Truth be told this wasn’t Tiramisu at all, but some pre-made bland cake that the restaurant gets delivered and then stores in their freezer! There was no noticeable coffee. No lady fingers and certainly no mascapone cheese. Had it not been for the $8.00 bottle of wine that we enjoyed with our dinner (Manchego permits you to dine with your own wine sans cork fees!) it would have been a total loss.

I guess I shouldn’t be so scathing, after all I did get to try membrillo.

Fortunately I was able to satisfy my sweet tooth with a to-go dessert from Urth Cafe on our way back to the hotel!

My friend came across our next culinary adventure in Air Canada’s En Route magazine. In the article Zach Braf shares his favourite haunts along Laurel Canyon Drive. Although En Route may seem like an unlikely place to take a restaurant recommendation, we figured it would be the perfect “Hollywood way” to pick a restaurant based on an actor’s recommendation.

Pace restaurant is tucked beneath the iconic Laurel Canyon General Store. We made reservations for Saturday night, got dressed up and made the 30 minutes drive into Los Angeles.

Pace’s menu features Italian food and the two of enjoyed our meals and the atmosphere. The restaurant was busy. I am sure that every table was full, but we felt comfortable and were able to enjoy each other’s conversation. The staff were attentive and personable.

To start, I enjoyed their vegan puree of the day. Sounds unappetizing I know, but it was anything but. The puree was a warm blend of roasted red beets on one side of the bowl and golden beets on the other. I stirred it together and the soup was as beautiful as it was tasty. Since I hate ordering vegetarian pasta dishes (although I am sure they would have been delicious), I went with one of their 3 vegetarian pizza selections – The Aphrodite.  It was served up on a small rectangular cutting board, as the pizza itself was a rectangular personal pizza. The crust was not thin, but it certainly was not too thick.  It was closer to a homemade crust than anything you would find at a traditional pizza joint. It was delicious. If I get the chance to go back to Pace I would order the same thing again! My friend enjoyed meatier fare and started off with a caesar salad and then moved onto the spaghetti bolognese. She was happy with her meal too.

With full belly’s we enjoyed the evening drive back to the beach along Sunset Boulevard.

Speaking of taking actor’s suggestions for restaurants I made use of Alicia Silverston’s blog to source out vegetarian and vegan restaurants. It was here that I found the link to the Real Food Daily restaurant located a few short block from our hotel. I had signed out the restaurant’s cookbook from the library and tried a recipe last year, so I was delighted to learn that I would be able to try their food first hand.

Since it was so close, we went there for our first dinner in Santa Monica. It was a few blocks east of the 3rd Street Promenade.

We both loved it. The restaurant it totally vegan and has a complete and varied menu. We both enjoyed variations on the same theme –The Real Food Meal. This features a grain of choice, vegetable, and protein of choice, topped off with your choice of sauce. If you do make it to Real Food Daily and opt for The Real Food Meal I recommend the wasabi dressing and the pressed salad as a definite must!

We enjoyed it so much that we went back for dinner 3 days later.

My friend got the exact same thing, while I was more adventurous and went for The Club with a side salad.  I was certainly glad that we went to Real Food Daily a second time because the owner Ann Gentry showed up with her husband and children shortly after we placed our order. You can see how excited I was that she was in attendance from the photo of my more than half eaten clubhouse sandwich.  I just plain forgot to take a photo.

When I mentioned to our server how excited I was to come to Santa Monica and eat at Real Food Daily and see the owner in attendance, he said he would ask her to stop by our table. I grabbed a copy of the cookbook which is for sale at the restaurant (Ann’s newest cookbook comes out in the middle of June and looks wonderful) and it was returned to me autographed with a visit from Ann. I was delighted to meet her and although we saw a couple of celebrities (Eric Balfor and Natascha McElhone) this was the closet we got to meeting anyone “famous” and the only autograph we brought home. Apparently Moses Znamier of CityTV fame has picked up an Ann Gentry Cooking show which should begin airing in the next few months. Take a peek at her blog if you are interested.

I guess this makes me a certifiable cookbook geek. If there is such a thing.

I will close out this post with a quick mention of some of the fun things we did while in Santa Monica

  • Rented bicycles from Sea Mist Rentals at the base of pier and rode south to Venice Beach and Marina del Ray.
  • Visited the Venice Canals and Abbot-Kinney Blvd.
  • Enjoyed lunch at 3 Square Cafe and Bakery while shopping along Abbot-Kinney. (don’t miss Bountiful , an eclectic shop beautifully crammed full of antiques and fantastic cake plates – among other things)
  • Checked out The Market for lunch located in the mall at the south end of the Third Street Promenade
  • Hiked up Runyon Canyon for views of the Hollywood sign and the LA basin
  • Set aside a few hours to visit The Getty Centre
  • Window shopped along Rodeo Drive and walked up Beverly Drive to the Beverly Hills Hotel
  • Walked along Wilshire Blvd on Sunday morning, camera in hand,  to check out the Art Deco buildings along The Miracle Mile.

We didn’t make it for a ride on the ferris wheel at the Santa Monica pier, so we will save that for our next visit!  However, when we do return we will certainly repeat our visits to Urth Cafe, Real Food Daily, and Pace.

Eat Alberta Conference 2011: an afternoon with our local food hereos

After a morning spent at our chosen sessions all the attendees and presenters descended upon Enterprise Square for lunch.

There was a fantastic tasting menu set up featuring local cheeses, meats, breads, honey, mashed potatoes, and two wonderful beets salads.  To top it all off one of the organizers Valerie of A Canadian Foodie made a wonderful vegetarian cassoulet.  To satisfy our  sweet tooth there was a variety of cookies and wonderful crunchy Pink Lady apples from Steve and Dan’s Fruit.  The organizers thought of everything!

The food doesn’t stop there.  After lunch I was off to Apple Pie Making with Christan Miller.  This was my first hands on session of the day and it was so much fun.  We were put into groups of four and measured out our flour and shortening and blended it all together using the Miller family’s special technique. Of course we were all excited to try our pies, but that anticipation was overshadowed by the apple peeler, corer, slicer in action.

Everyone was amazed.

I like to make a lot of apple sauce, apple butter, and now apple pies in the fall so I will certainly be picking up one of these little gems.

Our mini personal pies were stored in the fridge until the end of the day and, if I may jump out of chronological order, when I baked it later that evening I was delighted with the results.   I only hope I can replicate the perfect pie crust on my own!

My final session  got to the heart of what they day was all about: Making a Personal Connection to Your Food Source.  Presenter Maryann Borch and her family operate Good Note Community Farm.

She provided attendees with a glimpse into life on her family’s farm and also provided information about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) around Edmonton for vegetables, as well as meat, eggs, and cheese, something that Good Note participates in a well.  She also touched on information about the Community Garden Network as well as local food distribution organizations: Locavoria, Eat Local First – Good Food Box, and The Organic Box.

To end off the session Maryann had us all roll newspaper around wine bottles to make newsprint pots so we could take home  purple bunch onions and Calabrese broccoli seedlings to get a start on our own garden.

Kevin Kossowan ended off the day with a presentation of his From Local Farms Project.  You can view Kevin’s video here on his award-winning blog.  It was an inspiring and informative way to end a day long celebration of local food heroes.

If you haven’t guessed already I had a fantastic time and I am already looking forward to next year’s incarnation!  It was a truly awe-inspiring to attend a conference with a focus on local food and learn about the variety of food produced in our area.  I encourage you all to take a look at the links throughout today’s and yesterday’s posts and support our local food heroes!

Eat Alberta Conference 2011 a major success!

Starting off the day with coffee from Transcend and ginger apricot scones from Queen of Tarts would make one think that the day could not get much better, but it did.  Spending Saturday at the first ever Eat Alberta Conference meant my day just kept getting better and better!

After a busy week at work and an extended fun-filled Easter weekend visit with my parents the thought did cross my mind to just stay in bed Saturday morning and skip out on the conference.

What a terrible move that would have been.  I am so glad I attended! I had a fantastic time, met great people, learned a lot, and ate a ton of fantastic food!

Furthermore, the day went off without a hitch.  The organizers did a splendid job and I am sure that next year’s event will feature another sell-out crowd of very happy participants.

We started off the day with the morning keynote talk featuring Jenny and James from Sundog Organics.  The talk provided wonderful insight into the life of a local food producer and Jenny shared some great tips and pointers about producing food on your own. The information about obtaining seed from small producers such as Heritage Harvest Seed and Salt Spring Seeds will really come in handy now that spring has finally arrived!  I will be sure to stop in at their stall this summer at the downtown farmers market.

My first session was Honey Tasting with Patty Milligan from Lola Canola.  I will confess that this was the session I was most excited about and it was great.  We got to try 8 different types of honey from all over the world: mango blossom honey from Indonesia, acacia honey from Europe, blackberry honey from the USA, and traditional sweet clover honey from Canada.

Keeping with the spirit of the conference we also got to try some great honey from Alberta, which was one of my favourites.  I will definitely be picking up some dandelion honey from Lola Canola’s booth at the Downtown Farmer’s market at the end of the month.  Another favourite was the raspberry honey (the real McCoy, not honey flavoured with raspberries) from British Columbia and of course my all time favourite buckwheat honey from Saskatchewan.

Who knew that there is such a variety of honey out there and that bees are so interesting.  Thanks to Ms Milligan for a truly informative and tasty session!

Next I was off to learn about edible plants from around Edmonton with local botanist Robert Rogers.  I was surprised to learn that fireweed is an edible plant. Apparently the shoots are reminiscent of fresh asparagus and the flowers make a great addition to a salad.  He also went into great deal about cattail.  I was very interested to learn that the pollen from  the brush like top of cattail can be collected and combined 50/50 with wheat flour  to make delicious crepes.

He also talked about a popular plant around the city-the bearer of the tart rosehip.  I have always wanted to forage for rosehips and make some jelly and if I ever do get around to it I will take Robert’s hint to pick the berries after the first frost.  Apparently this makes it easier to separate the pulp from the seeds.  If you are interested in learning more about edible wild plants take a look at Robert’s website for upcoming events!

After learning about the tasty parts of cow parsnip and bear root, as well as the delicious ways to make use of highbush cranberries,  it was back to Enterprise Square for lunch!

Stay tuned for my next post on the afternoon edition of the Eat Albert Conference 2011!

Hungry? Why not Eat Alberta!

Since this is a vegetarian cooking blog, I won’t ask if you are interested in making your own sausage, but what about cheese making and tasting, or how about apple pie and pastry making,  pasta making, or best of all slow rise pizza dough making?

If any of these sound interesting to you then you will want to consider attending the Eat Alberta Conference on April 30, 2011 here in Edmonton.

The sessions will take place downtown from 8:30am until 5:00pm and get started with a continental breakfast, lunch break with a cheese, charcuterie (I think I will stick with the cheese -haha), and artisan bread pairing and “wine down” with a wine tasting at the end of the day.  Of course you know everything is going to taste wonderful being that this conference is organized by local foodies and bloggers, such as The Canadian Foodie, Brulee Blog, and Only Here for the Food.

Aside from the fantastic activities I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the day gets underway with an open session on urban gardening and gets everyone together at the end of the day for a session on urban homesteading, which sounds really interesting!

Throughout the day, you can choose from honey tasting with Lola Canola.  This is something I have always wanted to do.  I think it would be incredible to taste different types of honey and associate each of them with their respective flowers!

The conference also offers sessions on coffee tasting and how to make the perfect cup of coffee with the experts from Transcend, and of course more wine and cheese with a Canadian wine and local cheese tasting.

Best of all there is a local edible plants session!

This One-Day-Hands-On-Do-It-Yourself local food conference will be the place to be the last Saturday in April.  So take a peak at your calendar and save the date and plan to Eat Alberta!

Click on www.eatalberta.ca to register and find out more about this exciting food-filled day!

Vegetarian Eating in Havana, Cuba

Although I have always heard how wonderful Cuba is and how exciting and interesting Havana is, these rave reviews are often coupled with the following disclaimer: the food is not wonderful, exciting or interesting. In fact, it is quite poor.  I figured if carnivores found the food to be lacking then it would be even worse for vegetarians.

Since EPC and I had decided to go to Havana for Christmas this year, I thought I had better do a bit of research on the city’s food and restaurants before we arrived.  Armed with two guidebooks and the internet I set out to make a list of the vegetarian restaurants in Havana.

I came across two helpful internet sites.  One was a 2008 posting by a vegan traveler to Cuba. He mentioned how his most memorable meal was shredded green cabbage and tomatoes.

Gulp.

The second useful site was a link to a newspaper article written by a vegetarian resident of Havana.  This looked promising, but as he chronicled the decline of Havana’s few vegetarian restaurants, I felt a bit challenged, to say the least, about my ability to select some vegetarian restaurants prior to our arrival.

In fact on our first day in Havana, we arrived at one of the vegetarian restaurants listed in our guidebook only to find it closed for good.

Would we have to subsist on the sprig of mint gracing Cuba’s national drink?

Luckily for us the food at our hotel, The Hotel Saratoga, was quite good.  The Anaconda Restaurant had numerous pasta dishes on the menu such as penne arrabiata,  tagliatelle with sage and butter, pasta with pesto sauce and a lovely caprese salad.  The room service/bar menu also featured a delicious grilled baguette sandwich with cheese, tomato and onion accompanied by a salad and fries (the actually accompaniments varied from what was listed to banana chips and salad, only salad, or steamed carrots and salad).  This was my husband’s go-to meal whenever he was feeling hungry.

As you can tell from the photo, breakfast was one meal that you could really look forward to.  All the food pictured is part of the Continental Breakfast available in the Lobby Bar at the Park Central Hotel.  Best of all it only costs about  $8.00 Canadian.

As for other restaurants, one that featured quite prominently in both guidebooks and on the Happy Cow website, was the Al Medina.  This Mediterranean restaurant is located in Old Havana and if you have a guidebook you will have no problem finding it.  For Havana this is a vegetarian’s paradise.  Although the food was far from authentic, in fact the fatoosh salad was a cross between tabouli and bruschetta, it was quite satisfying.  We ate here 3 times and were turned away once because the restaurant was full.  Al Medina features a Vegetarian Mezza platter with rice, beans, fatoosh, falafel, hummus and pita and sautéed vegetables.  I am not convinced that the rice was not cooked in chicken broth, but when in Rome…  It also included a vegetarian kibbeh, which was squash wrapped in a cabbage leaf (you see what I mean about it not being authentic).  However, if you suspend your belief about what constitutes a falafel, the food is quite good.

I also found an excellent pizza place.  EPC and I both agreed that if we were served this pizza in Edmonton we would not be disappointed.  The best pizza that we had in Havana was at Prado and Neptuno right across from the Park Central Hotel and on the corner of, you guessed it,  Prado and Neptuno streets. We both ordered the Pizza Ecologico.  It was topped with artichoke hearts, onions, green pepper and fresh tomato.  They had a few other vegetarian pizza options, but I think the onion added lots of flavour and I did not want to risk my chance at a good meal by breaking tradition.  They also had vegetarian pasta dishes, but neither of us tried these.

Both guidebooks mention an Italian restaurant in the old city called La Dominica, but EPC and I thought it was terrible.  Although the restaurant was quite lovely to look at, the pizza was terribly salty and we did not even finish our meals.  To add insult to injury I ordered the tiramisu for dessert and was dismayed to find it adorned with coloured sprinkles with an unidentified petroleum product subbing in for the mascapone cheese and whipped cream.  In addition, my husband tried the margherita  pizza at our hotel and thought it was awful too.  By this point I was too scared to try the hotel’s tiramisu and figured I should wait until I got home.

I also had a great chop suey with steamed rice at Tien Tan in Havana’s Chinatown.  Once again, I cannot be certain that the chop suey was not cooked in a chicken broth.

In addition, we went to La Imprenta in Old Havana (Mercaderes and Lamparilla).  Upon first inspection it appeared to have numerous vegetarian options such as fried chickpeas and sautéed eggplant, but when asked the server informed me that both dishes were fried up with ham.  Sigh,  I settled on a spanish omelette which was quite good and only cost $1.25.  Since I am just starting to add egg dishes to my diet, I have little to compare it too.  In addition, there was a fantastic cheese plate featuring a fresh ricotta-type cheese, a mild cheese from Holland, and sharper cheese courtesy of Argentina.  It was glorious.

We had heard about how delicious the ice cream was, but the stuff I tried on the corner of Obispo and Mercaderes was artificial in both its taste and colour.  EPC and I stuck with the 500ml containers of Nestle Almond ice cream available all over the city.

In conclusion, I highly recommend the Cafe El Escorial located on the Plaza Vieja in Old Havana for their wide variety of speciality coffees and the Museo del Chocolate located just off the Plaza Vieja on Mercaderes for its thick hot chocolate and handmade chocolates.  These two places certainly took the edge off finding good food in Havana.

EPC commented many times how the food was better than he expected and I would have to agree.  It certainly did not detract from us having a wonderful holiday and thoroughly enjoying our experience in Havana.