Luxury of morning hikes

It is such a luxury to – instead of sitting at a computer in an office cubicle – be able to go for light hikes in the morning through beautiful forest of coniferous trees and rivers. Hearing birds talking. Feeling the dirt trail beneath your feet. Smelling the fruity air, thanks to the ripening berries on the bushes.

Ah the beauty of a vacation in beautiful British Columbia!

You may have heard of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which is a very popular (paid) tourist attraction in North Vancouver. However, there is a little gem in the Lynn Valley neighbourhood of North Vancouver called the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge. It isn’t as long as the Capilano bridge but it feels less touristy, is still quite impressive and well-maintained, has a good network of trails surrounding it, and is free!

Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge
Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge
Ready to cross the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge? Watch out - it sways!
Ready to cross the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge? Watch out – it sways!
Beautifully clear water
Beautifully clear water
Such serenity, listening to the water pass by and wind through the trees!
Such serenity, listening to the water pass by and wind through the trees!

Just north of the Capilano Suspension Bridge is Cleveland Dam and the salmon hatchery. The Capilano Pacific Trail is one of the major trails linking all 3 places; you can actually walk all the way from Ambleside Park (by Lions Gate Bridge) in West Vancouver via this trail all the way north to Cleveland Dam near the base of Grouse Mountain.

A view of Capilano Lake, from the dam
A view of Capilano Lake, from the dam
The Capilano Dam
The Capilano Dam

If you walk on the east side of the Capilano River, either down from the Capilano Dam or up from the Capilano Suspension Bridge, you can visit the Salmon Hatchery. I remember going here on school field trips to learn about the lifecycle of fish and it’s still well-maintained years later.

The Hatchery
The Hatchery
Baby fish at the hatchery
Baby fish at the hatchery
Another view of the hatchery and surrounding beauty
Another view of the hatchery and surrounding beauty
Another view of the hatchery
Another view of the hatchery

Drool over Sushi in the Park

One awesome summertime activity is watching a movie outdoors. Many cities across Canada host free movies in the park or on the pier (yay Halifax!), and Ottawa is not to be left out. Centretown Movies is a volunteer-driven film fest that screens family-friendly films at Dundonald Park in downtown Ottawa, both to bring the community together for evenings of fun and to take back a park that used to be a bit rough. The films are pay-what-you-can (pass-the-bucket style) and last year, there were two food vendors who serviced the event. Enjoy a picnic dinner on a Friday or Saturday evening then enjoy the movie once dusk sets in.

Click here to see the schedule. The first movies start July 26/27. However, I did want to highlight one very enjoyable film that I saw at the local independent theatre, Bytowne Cinemas. It’s called Jiro Dreams of Sushi and the story is great, the cinematography is great, and I definitely recommend seeing it. I wrote about it here but don’t worry, it isn’t a spoiler. The film is playing on Friday August 9. A recipe for a perfect summer evening!

Fair Trade, Fair Transport Chocolate

I was listening to a podcast of the BBC’s Food Programme on Mott Green. I had never heard of him previously but was quite intrigued by his creation of the Grenada Chocolate Company. In this age of microbreweries, artisanal food production, and maker culture, the philosophy embodied by Mott Green doesn’t sound all too foreign. However, this does not diminish the amazingness of what he did:

  • Small-batch chocolate production;
  • Cocoa grown, harvested, and processed into chocolate all in Grenada;
  • Self-empowered cocoa farmers who are part of a co-operative;
  • Keeping production local;
  • Living with the land;
  • Use of sustainable means to power machines.
  • Use of sustainable transport (a wind-powered ship) to move bars to international markets;
  • Control of the fermentation process for the cocoa and of the overall supply chain;
  • Certified organic ingredients; and
  • Building all of the machinery used in the process.

In 2012, Kum-Kum Bhavnani produced a documentary about the Grenada Chocolate Company called Nothing Like Chocolate; here is the trailer.

Mott Green facilitated the creation of a true tree-to-bar sustainable organic dark chocolate bar. Very cool, very inspirational.

Sea Vegetables

Today, the bento box is a trendy lunch style. Growing up, my mom would pack me a bento box to take to elementary school, complete with onigiri (Japanese rice balls) and a few side dishes to go with it; sometimes my lunch even included warm miso soup. Sounds amazing, right?

Well, I remember the reactions I got from my classmates when I’d open my bento at lunch. Classmates would hone in on the onigiri, wrapped in nori (sweet-salty Japanese toasted seaweed), and react with disgust and ridicule. I would go home and tell my mom that I just wanted a ham sandwich, just like everyone else.

I’m reminded of this memory as I listen to an episode of the BBC’s Food Programme on seaweed. Many cultures around the world have incorporated sea vegetables into their diets over hundreds of years. Growing up, my experiences told me that I was the odd one out, eating various seaweed products (nori, kombu, hijiki)…but now, I feel like North America and parts of western society are the odd ones out by not eating any seaweed.

Interestingly, seaweed use is becoming trendy, recognized for its vast flavours (including umami), mineral and trace element content, potential for supporting sustainability in energy (for humans and beyond), and – I’m assuming – because it still has that exotic pull. I’m noticing friends who really enjoy eating Korean or Japanese nori as a snack, eating or even rolling their own sushi, adding dulse or kombu to soup. Seaweed can be a condiment, a base, a main dish.

The future is bright for seaweed!

Powder or pods?

With my kitchen reno arrived a new appliance in the house: a dishwasher. I’m still ambivalent about whether a dishwasher is more effective/efficient at washing dishes than I am.

Consumables of a dishwasher:

  • electricity (new dishwasher takes 2 hours on a normal cycle)
  • dishwasher soap (seems more chemical-y than my dishwashing soap)
  • rinse agent (to help dry the dishes)
  • space (lost base cabinet space)

Consumables of a human dishwasher (ie. me):

  • dishwashing soap
  • sponge/rag
  • gloves (I gave in after years of washing without gloves…I can use hotter water and my hands aren’t wrinkly/dry by the end)
  • space (lost counter space due to drying rack)

Obviously I myself need energy to run but I usually need to eat regardless of whether or not I do dishes, so I’m not including that on my list of consumables.

We’ve never had a dishwasher of our own – and my partner never grew up with one either – so for our first purchase, we went with the dishwasher manufacturer’s recommendation on products to purchase: dishwashing tablets and rinse agent. Growing up, my mom always used powder detergent. I figured we could give these new tablet things a whirl…but now I’m wondering if they are a huge waste of money. I’m always skeptical of a company recommending specific products for use with their own products; it smells of a scam to me. My dishwasher also has half load capability so it’ll run half a load (either the top rack or bottom rack) in half the time, presumably with half the volume of water. If I had powder detergent, I could add half the dose but with my tablet, I suppose I could cut it in half?

Are pods/tablets just a way for manufacturers to further “create convenience” for the “modern woman” who considers it to be too much effort to use powder instead of a neat tidy pod? Not to mention every pod comes in its own little bag, creating much more waste than powder.

Powder or pod. That is the question.

Mer Bleu in Spring

This past winter, right after a heavy snowfall, we went snowshoeing at Mer Bleu Bog. The boardwalk was nowhere to be seen and it was a serene white all around us. We decided to venture back there on a beautiful sunny late Spring afternoon to see what it looks like when the snow has disappeared.

Welcome to Mer Bleu bog boardwalk in late Spring
Welcome to Mer Bleu bog boardwalk in late Spring
Cattails in the water
Cattails in the water
Beautiful reflections
Beautiful reflections
Bog - apparently Mer Bleu's pH is around 3.5...wonder what happens to you if you accidentally fall off the boardwalk....
Bog – apparently Mer Bleu’s pH is around 3.5…made me wonder what happens to you if you accidentally fall off the boardwalk….
The tree needs a hair cut!
The tree needs a hair cut!
Such beauty!
Such beauty!

Now that I’ve seen the bog in the dead of winter and in late spring, perhaps this means I’ll need to take a visit later this year during fall as well. Hmmm.

Washroom faux pas

It’s interesting what can become gossip at work. Recently, it was about a washroom faux pas. Someone had come out of the washroom and not washed their hands before exiting. Naturally, I asked if perhaps they had been changing or *ahem* fixing themselves somehow in the stall. Nope. Even if they had been doing either of those, they had flushed and therefore, touched the flusher thingy. That, to me, automatically creates the need to wash my hands. After all, some people flush using their feet (and therefore their shoes)! It wasn’t just one person who had noticed this. Several people remarked on having noticed this one particular person not washing their hands after coming out of a stall. So I wonder…is there another explanation for this seeming washroom faux pas?

Speaking of washing hands, I’m reminded of this fabulous video on a very practical way of reducing the number of paper towels you think you need to dry your hands. And trust me, it works.

Stimulating Saturdays: Food culture in a food desert

The value of turning land in the middle of a city into a garden is amazing. People who do the gardening and nurture the plants and the land find great joy in the activity, the people passing by and interacting with the garden are affected by their experience with nature, and slowly, food deserts disappear.

Local Food Act: Good things grow in Ontario

With the Legislative Assembly of Ontario back in action after a prorogation by the previous premier, the Local Food Act (Bill 36) has once again been reintroduced by the Minister of Agriculture and Food. The Minister explained that the Ontario government will lead by example in the support of local food systems by setting policy direction such as “requiring ministries to consider local food for procurements under $25, 000”. Also, the week leading up to Thanksgiving, which is the first Monday of October in Canada, will be Local Food Week, overlapping with the already existing Agriculture Week.

The bill definitely has a catchy title that is very with the times. However, all of the discussion that I have heard around the Local Food Act raises questions in my mind about what the government is trying to achieve. The phrase ‘local food’ is thrown around a lot. In the Act, local food is defined as:

(a)    Food produced or harvested in Ontario, and

(b)    Subject to any limitations in the regulations, food and beverages made in Ontario if they include ingredients produced or harvested in Ontario.

But I don’t think all local food is equal. And not all local food should automatically be considered to be superior to non-local food. “Local food” is more complex than just naming the borders of production. We need to think more critically about what it means to buy local, eat local, and support local.

  • If we do the ‘local’ thing, what factors do we want to prioritize? Is it eating more seasonally? Increasing funding and decreasing red tape to support the infrastructure necessary for local food systems?  Encouraging farmers to work with the land with sustainability for generations in mind (meaning less harm done to the soil and to plant diversity)?
  • What are the implications of decreasing your food mileage? How could this impact the farms countries away that have been shaped to supply some percentage of our food? Is a local food system more efficient or sustainable than a global food system?
  • For the public sector organizations that would be impacted by any targets set under the Act, what effect would local food procurement targets have on their overall operating budget? For example, hospitals receive decreased provincial funding to provide services, which result in cuts to staff and services; will local food procurement be affordable?
  • By using more of the food produced in Ontario within Ontario, will this have any effect on the availability of Ontario produce elsewhere in Canada?
  • Where does education fall into this picture? There is IMMENSE value in teaching children from pre-school through high school about food production and cooking through school gardens and kitchens. We need to educate kids and folks in general about making decisions related to their food. We also need to seriously address food security.
  • Even if the supermarket has signs indicating that this product was made in Ontario, what does this mean to consumers? Do they notice? Does this factor into their decision-making? Does it make a difference?

These are just some of the questions that floated into my head after reading the Local Food Act. The Minister (and numerous critics) has publicly acknowledged that the content of the bill is vague, but I suppose the idea is to create a framework to which more detail can later be added…?

Don’t get me wrong. I think it would be great if places like hospitals place real value on the quality of the ingredients that they use in their food; after all, ingredients do make a big difference. But the issue is complex and we just need to make sure that we’re having active discussions on what we want to focus on and prioritize.

You can read the short bill here:

A side note on food security: I was listening to a podcast that was discussing this topic and someone made a very good point that hadn’t consciously occurred to me. It isn’t just about teaching people how to cook from ‘raw’ ingredients (vegetables, meats, etc). Some people don’t have access to cooking implements. No stove, no oven, maybe no microwave or toaster. We can’t just think of a lack of access to affordable good ingredients. It’s access to the whole package.

Stimulating Saturdays: What is “sustainability” again?

There’s a lot of green-washing nowadays, with marketing moving towards green this, natural that, local this, sustainable that. So I thought it would be good to take a step back and remind ourselves of what ‘sustainability’ means as well as what some of the core principles that we should be using for guidance are. It’s a complex topic once you start getting into the weeds (the details) and there are different ways of interpreting and integrating principles of sustainability into your life and your business. It’s also easy to get swayed by effective marketing….

Sustainability: Everything is connected. Allowing for a good quality of life for us now and for the future generations, all around the world.