Posts Tagged ‘seasonal eating’

Seasonal eats: 10 reasons to buy fresh green beans

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Photo by Megg, via Flickr

Green beans (also known as string or snap beans) are at their peak in the summer months. Besides adding flavour, texture and vibrant colour to many dishes, they’re nutritional powerhouses, full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other health-protecting properties.

You’ll find green beans in grocery stores year-round, but they’re much tastier and more nourishing eaten fresh, so seek them out at farmers’ markets and farm gates or enjoy them as part of your CSA basket. Better yet, grow them yourself and eat them straight off the vine.

Green beans have a long history in the human diet. Along with other members of the common bean family (phaseolus vulgaris),  they originated in Central and South America thousands of years ago and were introduced to the Mediterranean – along with corn, squash and other indigenous Native American crops — after Columbus returned from the New World in 1493.

Despite the “common” label, they’re exceptional in many ways. Here’s why they deserve a place on your dinner table.

  1. Their clean flavour makes them an ideal accompaniment for meat and poultry, other vegetable dishes, and international cuisines.
  2. Their crunchy texture adds good mouth-feel while their emerald green colour brightens the plate.
  3. Like most veggies, they’re low-calorie.
  4. They’re excellent sources of vitamins A, K and C.
  5. Fresh green beans boast a higher overall concentration of antioxidants (including vitamin C and manganese) than other foods in the pea and bean families. Antioxidants can help prevent some forms of cancer and heart disease, and enhance your immune response to infections.
  6. They offer cardiovascular benefits as a result of their strong antioxidant profile, and possibly their omega-3 fatty acid content as well.
  7. Early research suggests that green beans’ carotenoid carotene and flavonoid content may provide anti-inflammatory benefits, potentially offering protection against type 2 diabetes. (Carotenoids and flavonoids are responsible for many plant colours and act as antioxidants.)
  8. The vegetable is a good source of nutrients such as fibre, folate, Vitamins B6 and B2, and potassium. It also contains vitamin B1, iron and calcium.
  9. Green beans are easy to prepare. They retain more of their health benefits when steamed or sautéed whole, and can be combined with other veggies like corn, cauliflower, red peppers and mushrooms, or included in main dishes, soups or salads. (For recipe ideas, try sources like Food & Drink, Bonnie Stern’s website, Food Network or Eating Well.) They’re also a frequent ingredient in French cuisine (think salade Niçoise or haricots verts almandine) and Asian dishes.
  10. They freeze well and can also be canned or pickled. (Note: Freezing will retain more nutrients than other types of processing.)

My favourite bean dish is Madhur Jaffrey’s spicy, garlicky Gujarati-style green beans. What’s yours?


Seasonal eats: 6 reasons to love garlic scapes

Friday, July 12th, 2013


Photo by Nocivelgia, from Flickr

The Carp and Perth garlic festivals are a month away but in the meantime, we have a few weeks to enjoy the green, mild-tasting shoots, or scapes,  harvested from hard-necked varieties of garlic at this time of year.

What are garlic scapes?

Like its relatives in the Allium family (onions, leeks, shallots and chives), garlic grows underground, developing into a soft bulb. As the bulb grows and hardens, a shoot resembling a green onion pokes up through the soil and twists into a tight curl before straightening.

Harvested while green and crisp, garlic scapes make a delicious, versatile addition to salads, dips and grilled vegetables. Unharvested, the scape turns into the woody garlic stalk or neck, and reduces the potential size of the garlic bulb.

While the health benefits of garlic scapes haven’t been studied, they likely have similar advantages to garlic itself, such as reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases and improving the immune system.

Storing and preserving

Store garlic scapes in the refrigerator and use within a week so they don’t wilt and lose their flavour. You could also freeze them (blanch first for 60 seconds, then plunge into icy water) or even pickle them.

Tasty, nutritious, easy to prepare

Here are six reasons to make garlic scapes part of your early summer eating.

  1. They combine fresh, mild garlic flavour with crisp texture and add visual punch to any dish.
  2. They’re versatile:  You can eat them raw or cooked. Chop them into a salad, stir fry or soup; grill them with other veggies; purée them to make pesto; or sauté them and add to an omelette. (Try sources such as Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living and Saveur for recipes.)
  3. In season, garlic scapes are easy to find at farmers’ markets or may be included in your CSA basket. (BTW, you won’t find them at the supermarket — at least not yet.)
  4. They’re only 30 calories per 100 grams.
  5. While studies on the topic are hard to come by, it’s reasonable to assume that scapes share nutritional benefits with garlic bulbs. For example, garlic is: high in manganese; a very good source of vitamin B6 and vitamin C, and; a good source of fibre, thiamin (vitamin B1) and the minerals phosphorus, selenium, calcium, and copper.
  6. Garlic has been known for its healing properties since 3000 BC. Studies show that it contains anti-microbial, anti-cancer, and antioxidant benefits, as well as the ability to reduce cardiovascular disease, boost immunity, and protect against diabetes. Again, garlic scapes may offer similar medicinal attributes.

Where do you buy garlic scapes? What’s your favourite way to prepare them?

8 reasons to grow your own food

Saturday, March 9th, 2013


Photo: Brian Everett, EVRT Studio

If you’re thinking about starting a vegetable garden, you’re not alone. According to an October 2012 report on garden trends, 53% to 54% of U.S. households with a yard or garden report growing fruit and vegetables – a figure that’s remained constant over the past three years. Although there are no comparable figures for Canada, the consensus is that food gardening is as popular here as it is south of the border. In addition, Canadian retailers of heritage seeds – that is, seeds from plant varieties introduced pre-World War II, before the era of mass-produced fruit and vegetables – are noting increased demand for their products.

Growing some of your own food is a simple way to:

  1. Save money.

Whether you buy a packet of seeds or a flat of plants, what you harvest will cost a fraction of the price you’d pay a retailer for the same foods.

  1. Eat more, tastier produce.

With the many varietals available as seeds and seedlings, you have the chance to sample produce you won’t find at the grocery store. And it will taste better. It’s hard to beat the flavour of beans you’ve just picked from the vine or the aroma of fresh-snipped basil leaves in a pasta sauce.

  1. Shrink your carbon footprint.

Instead of schlepping to the neighbourhood retailer to buy California lettuce or Chinese garlic, collect fresh food from your balcony or backyard. Food miles?  What food miles?

  1. Know what’s in your food.

You grew it yourself, so you know that you didn’t use GMO seeds, load the soil with synthetic fertilizer or spray the plants with pesticides.

  1. Teach your kids about food.

Let them plant a row of carrots or water the blueberry bushes. They’ll have fun and learn that food doesn’t really come from a supermarket or fast food outlet.

  1. Improve your health.

For one thing, gardening gets you outside. For another, whether you’re standing, stooping, kneeling or digging, gardening can burn anywhere from 120 to more than 300 calories an hour, depending on the task. There’s also evidence to suggest that connecting with nature – in particular, with the smells of nature – lowers blood pressure and increases anti-cancer molecules in the bloodstream.

  1. Learn about seasonal eating.

We’re so used to eating whatever we want whenever we want it that most of us no longer recognize that food is seasonal. When you grow your own food, you see that each fruit and vegetable grows at its own rate and is ready for harvest at a particular time: asparagus in June, tomatoes and corn in August, beets and squash in the fall. If you grow enough food, you’ll also be motivated to learn about food preservation techniques like canning, freezing, dry and storing.

  1. Benefit from an activity that doesn’t require a lot of space or pricey equipment.

If you have a back yard, great. But all you really need is a sunny windowsill, a few containers,  and some seeds to get started. If you want to grow more than you have space for, consider growing vertically, or find out if there’s a community garden in your neighbourhood. And remember that there are lots of resources available in the community and online to get you started. Here are a few:

What food do you plan to grow this summer?

How to choose a CSA

Saturday, January 26th, 2013


If you want to join a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, farm this year, now is the time find out what’s available in the Ottawa region. Some CSAs have begun accepting applications for the 2013 season ( is already sold out), so don’t leave it until March or April to purchase your share.

As a CSA member, you pay a flat rate for a share of what the farm produces that year. In return, you receive a weekly basket of the farm’s freshest seasonal produce.  CSAs are becoming more popular across North America. With food safety a hot-button issue these days (think the XL Foods recalls in 2012 or the 2008 listeria scare), consumers want more information about where their food comes from and how it’s produced. Belonging to a CSA offers the kind of transparency people are looking for, as well as a chance to support family farming and the local economy.

To choose the CSA that’s the right fit, you’ll need to do a bit of homework.

Consult the Buy Local Guide

Find out what CSAs serve the Ottawa region by consulting Just Food’s Buy Local Guide. In most cases, there’s a link to the farm’s website so you can click through for more information. Call the CSAs you’re interested in, and consider arranging an in-person visit as well as speaking to current members.

Compare CSA features

Take note of:

  • pick-up/delivery arrangements. CSAs are usually located outside the city, but most will have drop-off spots in town, and a small number do home delivery.  Others ask members to collect their baskets from the farm gate.
  • types of products. Vegetable CSAs dominate, but some supply additional products — preserves, flowers, honey, eggs, pastured meat and poultry — that can be added to the weekly basket or purchased at the farm. Several CSAs provide meat and poultry only, such as Grazing Days (beef), Natural Lamb (lamb, turkey, chicken) and Upper Canada Heritage Meat (pork).
  • season length. The typical season runs 16 to 18 weeks, from June to October. However, several farms extend the season by growing in greenhouses or hoop houses; others offer one or more winter storage baskets (e.g., Ferme Lève-tôt, Rainbow Heritage Garden) stocked with root vegetables and greens.  Bryson Farms, a large non-standard CSA, grows and delivers food year-round.
  • price. Traditional CSAs charge a flat rate per share for the season that varies according to share size (different shares are available based on household size), product types and season length.  Non-standard CSAs charge per weekly box rather than per seasonal share.
  • member involvement. If being part of a community is important to you, look for a CSA that organizes educational workshops, volunteer workdays or seasonal potlucks.

Match CSA features with household needs

The CSA that suits a single person living in downtown Ottawa may not be the best fit for a 4-person household in the suburbs, so set clear priorities (flexible share sizes? home delivery? winter baskets?) and pick your CSA accordingly.  And don’t choose based on price alone: consider the total value the farm offers, including additional products and services and on-farm activities.

Make the most of the experience

To get the most from CSA membership, remember that it’s a very different experience from grocery shopping in a big-box outlet.  For example, as a CSA member, you:

  • share the benefits and risks of CSA farming. The goal of CSAs is to bring farmers and eaters into mutually supportive relationships in which they share the benefits and risks of growing food.  In other words, with good weather and good harvests, weekly baskets are plentiful; when poor weather or pests reduce crop yields, weekly baskets will be smaller and less varied.
  • become a seasonal eater. CSAs don’t offer the same foods year-round as supermarkets do. Instead, they bring you the best of the season. This may include items you’re not familiar with, so be willing to experiment. And while many CSAs provide members with recipes with each week’s basket, it makes sense to think ahead: learn what’s in season when, and make sure you have a supply of recipes on hand.

Are you a CSA member? How did you choose your CSA?

Related posts: 5 easy steps to seasonal eating, Join a CSA farm in 2013

Seasonal eats: Roasted butternut squash salad

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Locally grown butternut squash is a tasty, nutritious and versatile vegetable that makes it easier to eat seasonally over the winter. Its  smooth texture and sweet, nutty flavour pair well with many meat, poultry and grain dishes. In addition, it’s rich in vitamins A, B6 and C, as well as magnesium, potassium, fibre and folate. Butternut squash is abundant in the fall and lasts up to two to three months stored in a cool, dark basement or cupboard.

It’s also simple to prepare. Choose a squash that’s firm and heavy. Peel it, scoop out the seeds and cut the flesh into cubes. Then toss the cubes in oil for oven-roasting, purée them for soup, or boil and mash them to use in casseroles, muffins or breads. 

Here’s a recipe for roasted squash salad developed by Anna March, resident chef at The Urban Element, a culinary studio on Wellington Street that supports local producers and seasonal eating.

A graduate of Algonquin College’s chef training   program, Anna has honed her culinary style at acclaimed restaurants across Canada, including Ottawa’s Beckta and Farbs Kitchen and Wine Bar, and Vancouver’s Fuel. She was also chef at Mariposa, the Plantagenet duck and goose farm that serves Sunday lunches of regionally sourced, country-style fare. Anna says she hopes her enthusiasm for food and cooking inspires others to use fresh local ingredients and make cooking a fun, exciting part of every day.

 Roasted squash salad with granola and maple vinaigrette

Chef Anna March

2 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1/4 cup canola oil

1 bunch fresh thyme

1 bunch sage

3 cloves garlic, smashed

salt and pepper to taste

3 granny smith apples cut into cubes at the last minute

1 shallot, minced

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese curls or chips (use a peeler)

1 recipe of honey roasted granola (see recipe below)

1 recipe of maple mustard vinaigrette (see below)

1. In a large bowl, toss the squash cubes with oil, salt and pepper, herbs and garlic. Spread evenly on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 375°F for about 15 minutes or until the squash is tender but not falling apart. To ensure even cooking, remove the squash halfway through and toss.

2. Prepare remaining ingredients, including the granola and vinaigrette.

 3. Drizzle maple vinaigrette over the baked squash and combine with the other ingredients.

Serve the salad as a main course or side dish.

Honey roasted granola

Tip: Toss the granola a few times during baking to make sure it’s evenly crisp.

1 cup pumpkin seeds

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup oatmeal

1/2 tsp cayenne

1 cup honey

1 tsp salt or to taste

1 cup almonds (if desired)

1. Heat the honey, cayenne and salt in a small saucepan.

2. Pour honey mixture over the remaining ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Check the seasonings and adjust as necessary.

3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, spread the granola on top and bake at 350°F until golden brown and crispy.

4. When the granola cools, break it into small pieces.

Maple mustard vinaigrette

Yield: 2 1/2 cups

Tip: Vinaigrettes work best with a three-to-one ratio of oil to vinegar. Plug any oils or vinegars into this equation for a well-balanced vinaigrette. Here, you can always adjust the acidity with a little sweetness from the maple syrup.

2/3 cup sherry vinegar

1 1/2 cups grape seed oil

2 tbsp grainy mustard

3 tbsp maple syrup

salt and pepper to taste

1. Whisk the mustard, maple syrup and vinegar together in a bowl.

2. Whisk in the oil In a steady stream until well blended. Season to taste.

What are your favourite recipes for winter squash?

5 easy steps to seasonal eating

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Photo: Nick Saltmarsh,


As consumers in a global economy, we’re used to buying and eating whatever we want, whenever we want it. Whether it’s June or December, we can walk into the grocery store and find asparagus and tomatoes, lamb and shellfish. No wonder we’re losing our sense of different foods being seasonal – raised, harvested, and at their peak of flavour at certain times of year.

This loss is part of our growing disconnection from food.  Fewer Canadians farm the land than ever before, and most what we eat is grown, processed, packaged and shipped, by a handful of multinational food companies, far from our communities and out of public view.

While we can’t expect to eat all- local or all-seasonal here in Ottawa, with its short growing season and long winters, we can become more aware of what we’re eating and the effect that our food choices have. The benefits of doing this, as I wrote in an earlier post, include enjoying better-tasting food, supporting the local economy and helping to build a lower-impact food system.

Here are five simple ways to eat more seasonally.

  1. Find out what’s in season when. (And don’t just think fruit and veg. Meat, poultry and eggs, fish  – all are at their best at different times of year.)
  2. Collect recipes for favourite foods so if you’re suddenly swamped with beans or zucchini from the garden or the CSA farm you belong to, nothing will go to waste because you have options for preparing it.
  3. Buy extra food when it’s in season and freeze or preserve it by canning, pickling, dehydrating or smoking.  Turn a bounty of fall tomatoes into juice, salsa, chutney, paste or ketchup. When cabbage is plentiful, make sauerkraut. If you’re new to food preservation, attend Just Food’s workshops or consult the many books (Put a Lid on It! and Putting Food By to name just a few) and online resources (such as Bernardin Canada or on the topic.
  4. Get the right equipment for storage or preservation. Invest in a standalone freezerbuy canning equipment, build a root cellar or use your basement to store fall and winter vegetables such as squash, potatoes and carrots.
  5. If you’re too busy for freezing and preserving, you can still make a big difference by purchasing local foods when they’re available instead of buying the same items from half-way around the world. 

What’s your favourite seasonal food? How do you like to prepare or preserve it?

Watch for the next Earthward post: it will be the first of a regular series of recipes from Ottawa chefs featuring local, seasonal ingredients.

New blog explores sustainable food in Canada’s capital

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Photo by Comprock

Welcome to Earthward, a blog about sustainable local food in Ottawa, Ontario.

It delves into the way we produce, distribute and consume food in the Ottawa region, focusing on the people, places and policies behind the area’s local food movement.  I’ve started it to spark new conversations about food in this city and to encourage you to share information, experiences and ideas for change.

There are many definitions of a sustainable food system, but most of them centre on producing, distributing and consuming food in ways that shrink our environmental footprint, nurture community and build the local economy. Growing numbers of people and organizations also define a sustainable food system as one that ensures that everyone – not just a privileged few – has access to an adequate supply of healthy food.

 Ottawa’s local food scene

Ottawa has plenty of potential for food production. Nearly 80% of its land is rural, and about half of that is farmland. The city has a vibrant local food scene that includes farmers’ markets, CSA farms you subscribe to for a share of fresh produce, microprocessors, small family food businesses, chefs who showcase local ingredients, and advocacy groups working to increase food security and food justice.

 What will Earthward posts cover?

I’ll profile the key players – the innovative farmers, entrepreneurs, chefs, and policymakers who are making their mark on the city’s sustainable food scene. What drives them? How are they working to engage people?  What changes do they want to see in the way the region feeds itself?

I’ll also bring you:

  • recipes and tips from Ottawa chefs on how to eat seasonally
  • guest posts from movers and shakers in the sustainable food movement
  • round-ups of local and international news, covering topics such as urban farming, green roofs, organics, school food, and much more, as well as
  • snapshots of what sustainable food activists are achieving elsewhere in Canada and around the world

Above all, I’ll be listening to you to learn what you want to hear more about.

 How can readers comment on the blog?

It’s easy.  Just fill out the comment form on this page, or send me an email or a Tweet. Whether you’d like to suggest topics for future posts, share your experiences with sustainable food or talk about the future of Ottawa’s food system, I look forward to hearing from you.

 What are my qualifications?

I’m a freelance writer who covers topics such as urban farming, food security and food policy. I graduated from the Sustainable Local Food program at St. Lawrence College and have volunteered with organizations such as Sustain Ontario and the People’s Food Policy Project. You can find more about me on my website. 

 What sustainable food topics do you want to read about on Earthward? Share your ideas in the reply box.