October: nature’s reminder to love and devour pumpkin

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

The fall colours have been spectacular this year. I am told that the brightest autumn colours occur when dry sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights. We have, indeed, enjoyed wonderful weather this fall. Right up until this week it has been sunny and dry; perfect weather for long walks on Mount Royal and for wandering around Montreal’s markets admiring the bounty of this year’s harvest which included, amazingly enough, beef steak field tomatoes right up until Thanksgiving. Unheard of.

Now, approaching the end of October, the later fall offerings reflect the cooler nights. The hardy carrots, onions and cabbages are still around, joined by sweet potatoes, all manner of  squash and, of course, pumpkins.

blog pumpkins danielle levy nutrition comPumpkins at Montreal’s Marché Jean Talon (source: daniellelevynutition.com)

Pumpkins are everywhere; this is their month. For many of us, it’s the only time that pumpkins cross our paths. The only pumpkin we eat is in a pie at Thanksgiving and the only pumpkin we buy is to carve, once a year, on Halloween.

That level of neglect does not give pumpkin its due.

The pumpkin is more than simply a decorative gourd; it’s a nutritional superstar. It’s packed with nutrients including potassium, magnesium and vitamins C and E along with the disease-fighting cartenoids alpha- and beta-carotene. And it’s high in fibre to boot.

You’ll find similar properties in carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and orange bell peppers.

You’ll also find a nutritional punch in pumpkin seeds, which are rich in vitamin E, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc and a great plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids.

So while you admire the beauty of the fall markets, think about how to incorporate pumpkin into your diet all year round. One of my favorite ways to use pumpkin throughout the year is in risotto. Here’s a recipe to get you started. Don’t worry, it’s not an exact science and you can play with the flavours, but I do love the addition of sage, which is something I always do — along with the pine nuts. Yum.

blog pumpkin-risotto

A creamy pumpkin risotto (source: food nine msn)

You can make this dish with lovely fresh pumpkin — now — or with good quality canned pumpkin, which is available throughout the year. And, of course, you can always garnish it with pumpkin seeds. Seasoned and roasted they’re  crunchy, buttery and delicious.

Try this delicious recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds. Or, using recommended cooking times, season them with anything you like. For example, do something classic with olive oil and salt and pepper, or something a little spicier using pepper, chilli, smoked paprika or garam masalsa. Or go for barbeque flavour with brown sugar, chipotle and ground cumin, or something sweet, tossing the toasted seeds with cinnamon and sugar.

blog pumpkin roasted-pumpkin-seedsDelicious roasted pumpkin seeds (source: The girl who ate everything)

So this year, when you go out to purchase the perfect pumpkin for your Halloween jack-o-lantern, let it inspire you to think about all the ways that you can honour this powerhouse of a fruit  (yes, it’s a fruit, related to the melon — not a vegetable).

blog pumpkin danielle levy nutrition com 2Beautiful ripe pumpkins (Source: daniellelevynutrition.com)

And that brings me to the ubiquitous Halloween pumpkin that decorates the stoop for trick-or-treaters.

While we love the classic jack-o-lantern with the triangle eyes and the big toothy grin, we’ve pulled together a few different techniques to help inspire you when you execute your own creation, if you’re looking for something a little different.

When you remove the guts and prepare your pumpkin for carving, don’t forget to save the seeds for roasting.

1. Drilling

It has become quite popular in the last few years to forgo a knife and use power tools — notably a drill — to decorate pumpkins. If you’ve never used a drill to decorate your pumpkin before, here’s a great tutorial to get you started. It’ll help you create designs from something simple and graphic yet really effective like these three pumpkins that spell “BOO” to something a little more involved, complicated and artistic such as filigree patterns.

pumpkin 5 imgarcade

The tutorial covers steps from cleaning and prepping the pumpkin to marking out the design and selecting the right size drill bits to achieve the desired effect. It includes some important tips, like be sure to make the holes large enough that the light radiates out and sufficient air circulates to keep the flame alive inside the pumpkin.

pumpkin 8 flash-screen

2.  Templates

Another departure from a traditional carved pumpkin is to use a stencil to help create an elaborate design.  There are lots of stencils available for free on line, from the very tasteful, courtesy of Martha Stewart, to sites like Zombie Pumpkins, which has a huge selection of intricate zombie-related  and other classic Halloween-themed stencils.

blog pumpkin edgar allan poePumpkins made using templates that evoke the horror of Edgar Allan Poe (source: Martha Stewart)

Once you find a stencil that you like, tape it to the side of the pumpkin. Using a nail, or another transfer tool, start punching holes along the lines designed on the stencil. Punch deep enough through the pumpkin so when it’s time to saw, the lines will make it easier to cut through.  Once the whole design is punched out, cut out the pieces of the design using a small carving saw.

blog pumpkin

Pennywise (source: Zombie Pumpkins)

3.  Free-hand art pieces

Some people are so talented that they can create true artistic masterpieces without the help of templates.  Maniac Pumpkin Carvers in Brooklyn is home to some of these talented folk. They’re real pros, carving more than 400 unique and elaborate pumpkins every Halloween.  In an interview with mental_floss, they shared some useful tips for beginners and experts alike, interested in creating unique and artistic pumpkins. For example, they propose cutting your hole in the back of the pumpkin to keep the stem in tact, rather than the top or the bottom, and they suggest using a wide range of tools from paring knives to lemon zesters, rasps, exacto knives and lino cutting tools.

pumpkin 3 mymodernmetVincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” by Brooklyn’s Maniac Pumpkin Carvers

4.   No-carve decorating

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you can achieve some stunning effects without carving. There are several resources on line that will help inspire you to find original and beautiful decorating ideas that don’t involve cleaning and carving pumpkins.

They won’t work to light your porch for trick-or-treaters, but even the simplest designs can be visually stunning like these “heavy metal” pumpkins. They’re sophisticated and elegant, yet couldn’t be easier to produce. All you need is some metallic spray paint, a damp rag (to clean the pumpkin) and some newspaper to sit the pumpkins on. Make sure you work in a well ventilated space. Spray the pumpkins. Two coats work best. Then let them dry for at least 24 hours.

blog pumpkin metalHeavy metal pumpkins (Source: Real Simple)

You could also choose to something a little more design-oriented like these pumpkins designed with a washi tape plaid pattern.  I love washi tape. It’s available in so many patterns and colours, that decorating with it really offers endless possibilities.

blog pumpkin no carve Washi tape plaid pumpkins (source: Real Simple)

To create a plaid effect, use a dry erase marker to map out your design. Then mark it out with tape to the pumpkin’s surface. Try using longer strips because piecing together too many short strips will look sloppy. Begin at the stem and run your tape down the side of the pumpkin, erasing the markings as you adhere the strips to the surface. After the vertical stripes have been made, apply tape around the circumference of the pumpkin to complete your pattern.

However you decide to decorate your pumpkin, it will all be over on November 1. It seems like such a shame that the morning after Halloween when all your hard work gets tossed out with the garbage.

It appears as though lots of people feel that way, so in some cities, communities get together to showcase pumpkins from the neighbourhood in a Pumpkin Parade on November 1st. Have a look and see if there’s anything going on where you live.

In Montreal you can find Pumpkin Parades in Montreal West at Strathern Park and in Outremont at Pratt Park.

A Pumpkin Parade in Sorauren Park, Toronto

What’s your favourite way to get pumpkin into your diet throughout the year? How will you decorate your pumpkin this Halloween?

Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page or on Twitter @GalerieCO

Barbeques and burgers

Aaaaaah…the summer long weekends have started. In Quebec this week, we celebrated St. Jean Baptiste Day, and next week we’ll mark Canada’s birthday on July 1. Across the country people in holiday mode are getting together with family and friends to celebrate outside, often around a barbeque, which is a good thing. There’s something about being in the fresh air enjoying long days in the great outdoors that seems to make people hungry. And there’s something about eating al fresco that makes food taste better. At least that’s the hypothesis that I’ll be testing this long weekend.

Quebec And Canada FlagsOutdoor dining can be as simple as throwing a few veggies on the grill although for me, a summer barbeque has to involve meat or fish and nothing seems to please a crowd  like a good burger with all the toppings. I’m happy to make my own patties, and there are lots of recipes out there for excellent hamburgers to suit all tastes. But, I don’t have to make my own patties anymore. I have the good fortune to work next door to a team of people who know a lot more about meat than I do.

Galerie CO is located just steps away from Lawrence, a fine-dining institution in Montreal’s Mile End that serves up a stellar hamburger at lunchtime accompanied by thick hand-cut fries and homemade mayo that YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS. But I digress. Just know that chef Marc Cohen presents straight forward wonderfully flavourful food using the best ingredients available.

Lawrence Burger

The classic Lawrence burger (Source:Lee-Anne Bigwood, Chez CO)

And, lucky for me, his raw burgers are available at Boucherie Lawrence, which is directly next door to Galerie CO.  Boucherie Lawrence — the butcher associated with the restaurant and owned by the same team — is a purveyor of fresh, humanely raised, high quality meat from small-scale independent farms in Quebec. It supplies the restaurant and the city with exceptional fodder for carnivores.  Their burgers start with great meat ground fresh daily and include a healthy ratio of fat and a nice coarse grind.

lawrence burger 1 tellementswellBurger patties for sale at Boucherie Lawrence in Montreal (Source: tellementswell.com)

That’s what I’ll be barbequing this long weekend while celebrating Canada Day. And I’ll be doing it in the great outdoors, which means a portable barbeque — charcoal not gas (a bag of charcoal can easily be chucked into the car). Yes, working with a charcoal grill requires some planning and patience, but the payoff is the smokey flavour that comes from the smouldering hot coals. The better the briquettes, the better the smoke; choose charcoal made from real pieces of wood, or mix charcoal with chunks of hardwood.

bbho011Holkham portable BBQ (Source: Garden Trading via galerie-co.com)

As with most things involving fire, according to the National Fire Protection Association in the U.S., there are a few basic rules to follow for safely handling a charcoal grill:

  • Propane and charcoal BBQ grills should only be used outdoors.
  • The grill should be placed well away from the home, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill area.
  • Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.
  • There are several ways to get the charcoal ready to use. Charcoal chimney starters allow you to start the charcoal using newspaper as a fuel.
  • If you use a starter fluid, use only charcoal starter fluid. Never add charcoal fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire.
  • Keep charcoal fluid out of the reach of children and away from heat sources.
  • There are also electric charcoal starters, which do not use fire. Be sure to use an extension cord for outdoor use.
  • When you are finished grilling, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container. (www.nfpa.org)

Use enough charcoal to cover the bottom of your grill and get the fire nice and hot. Once the fire is started, there will come a point where the briquettes form a grey ash and the fire is ready.  You can redistribute the briquettes, out of their pyramid formation, and place them where you need them for cooking.

blog charcoal-grill-636-main_FullCharcoal ready for cooking (Source: beefambassador.com)

Whether you buy your patties or make your own, keep them in the fridge or in a cooler until you’re ready to cook them.

When the charcoal is ready place the patties on a lightly oiled grill and find a cover, or close the lid. After 4-5 minutes flip the patties, provided they lift easily. Cover, or close the lid and grill for another 4-5 minutes. Flip them one more time and continue grilling until the juices from the burgers run clear and the patties feel solid.

Try not to turn the burgers more than once or twice. The more you handle meat while it is cooking, the dryer it will be. And avoid pressing or mashing the burgers into the grill, as this will also dry out the meat and can cause the burgers to fall apart.

blog burger 1(Source: agb-styles.blogspot)

One challenge with grilling on charcoal is that there will be variations in heat levels from one space on the grill to the next meaning that two burgers side-by-side may not cook at the same rate. However, there are some great tricks that can be employed to arrive at a perfectly cooked burger. Barbeque blogger Joshua Bousel offers the following two tips on Serious Eats:

He suggests setting up the grill so that the coals are piled on one side of the charcoal grate to provide a temporary safe haven for burgers engulfed in a flare-up and a spot where burgers can finish cooking without fear of burning, once the perfect sear has been achieved.  He stresses that it’s important to close the lid to give the meat the heat it needs to finish cooking.

A second trick he shares is to use a small heat-resistant bowl to cover individual burgers where the internal cooking needs to be speeded up, or when cheese needs to be melted.

Hamburgers(Source: Joshua Bousel)

Check before serving, the burgers should not be too pink in the middle. It’s important not to under-cook ground beef. Nothing should be rare. High quality, freshly ground beef can be cooked to medium-rare. Anything else should be medium-well or well done.

Once you’re finished with the grill, putting out the fire is as important as starting it. When you’re done cooking, using proper protection for your hand, carefully close any vents on the grill and secure the cover. Assume it will take at least 1 hour for your fire to go out and your grill to cool down. If your charcoal grill doesn’t have a cover, you’ll need to let your fire burn itself out, which could take an hour or two or more.

Have fun, be safe and enjoy the holidays.

– Sarah

We’d love to hear what you’re barbequing. Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

bbq-1Whitstable portable barbeque (Source: Garden Trading via galerie-co.com)

Ode to June: peonies and Pimm’s

June is without a doubt my favourite month. It marks the transition between spring and summer. Fresh growth carpets the city; green, and bursting with life. The sun is bright and the days are long and warm; the nights temperate.

But it gets even better: with peonies and Pimm’s.

Peonies appear like clockwork at the beginning of the month, starting with the tree peonies followed, for a glorious few weeks, by herbaceous varieties.

peonies

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

The quintessential, perennial, peonies have it all going on. They’re easy to grow, drought-resistant and hardy to zone 3. They’re outrageously beautiful and sweetly fragrant when in bloom. When not in bloom they sport lush green foliage with handsome glossy leaves. And your peony may well live longer than you do. Some varieties have been known to live for 100 years.

Peonies

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

Peonies have inspired many a writer, and literary references abound. My favorite is that of poet John Keats. In his Ode on Melancholy, Keats wrote of the “wealth of glob’d peonies”— peonies in their final stage of development before they burst open—as a moment when anticipation of the beauty to be revealed by the opening of the bud represents the joy in life, even if it is fleeting.

And that’s the thing about peonies. They’re around for a month and then they’re gone. I have peonies in my garden, but never quite enough to harvest them en masse to fill the house for those few precious weeks when they are available. So I buy them.

Pale peonies

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

My absolute favourite source for cut peonies in Montreal is a small family-run flower stand at the Atwater market (across from the fish store). Starting in May, and only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they will sell you what is in their garden beginning with blossoms, lilacs and lily of the valley – and in June, buckets of peonies going for a song.

Peonies at the market

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

Even if it’s across town, it’s so well worth the visit if you get excited about the prospect of the early summer’s wealth of fresh local cut flowers!

Welcoming in the summer brings me to the second great pleasure I associate with June: Pimm’s. As soon as the weather warms up, Pimm’s becomes my drink of choice. It’s the perfect summer cocktail, made more perfect by the addition of seasonal strawberries, cucumber and mint.

Pimms bottle papermag 1

(Source: papermag.com)

Pimm’s originated in 1840 in an Oyster Bar owned by James Pimm in the City of London. He created the Pimm’s ‘House Cup’, later called the No 1 Cup, using gin, quinine and a secret mixture of fruit extracts and herbs to aid digestion. It caused quite a storm at the time, and remains as popular as ever. It’s a staple drink at summer events  in the UK,  such as Wimbledon where over 80,000 pints are sold every year.

pimms keep calm (keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk)

(Source: keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk)

I came of age in the UK and cut my drinking chops on shandies (beer and lemonade) and Pimm’s. When I moved to Quebec in the late 1990s, Pimm’s wasn’t available at the SAQ and so I stocked up each summer in Ontario. But things have changed and it’s now widely available throughout North America, including here in Montreal. I urge you to pick up a bottle this summer and mix up a batch of the Original Pimm’s No 1 for your drinking and entertaining pleasure.

Pimms spoonstosporks

(Source: spoontosporks.com)

Here’s how:

  • Fill a jug with ice.
  • Pour over the ice: 1 part Pimm’s No 1 with 3 parts ‘lemonade’ (in Britain ‘lemonade’ refers to a clear carbonated lemonade soft drink that has nothing to do with a home-made lemonade made with real lemons and sugar. British ‘lemonade’ is only available in specialty UK food stores. Good substitutes are Mountain Dew, 7-Up, Sprite or Ginger Ale).
  • Add mint leaves, thin cucumber slices, orange slices and strawberry (you can play around with the fruit accompaniments, but mint and cucumber are essential).

cut up fruit

(Source: foodcomas.com)

It’s so tasty that you will forget it’s actually alcoholic (25% proof).  You’ve been warned.

Happy June everyone.

– Sarah

Creative colourful container gardening

It finally feels as though summer has arrived and here in Montreal it’ll be over before you know it. That’s not meant to depress you. The longest day of the year is still two weeks away. It’s just that if you haven’t already planted some flowers on your balcony or in your backyard or started your herb garden for summer recipes, you need to get on it!

Don’t let the search for the perfect planters become a sticking point. Look around the house or check out your local garage sales and flea markets. You can use and re-use just about anything to grow flowers and herbs; often just as is, or tarted up a little with a paint job.

We’ve looked around for some inspiring images of plantings from our neighbourhood and beyond that show what can be done with nothing but a little imagination a few choice plants and perhaps a couple of basic tools.

crate garden

A wine crate garden in Montreal mixes veggies and flowers adding colour to an urban sidewalk. (Source: Galerie CO)

Don’t forget to make sure that there is drainage in your container and pick a vessel that fits not only the size of your space but the size of the plant or plants you want to grow. Mismatched and multiple containers arranged in groups can look great.

container garden (matadornetwork.com)In Toronto, pizza sauce cans have been painted to create a bold and uniform colour scheme. (Source: Madga Wojtyra)

Pot-Bunga-dari-Teko-Recycled-Pot

A quirky and whimsical use of old teapots. (Source: Beautyharmonylife)

apartment-therapy-cinder-blocks

Minimalist and modular cinder blocks. (Source: apartmenttherapy)

container gardeing (containergardening.about.com)

Old Clementine boxes make great kindling, but they also look charming filled with spring flowers, such as pansies. (Source: containergardening.about.com)

larger

Don’t worry about recycling an elegant biscuit tin; transform it instead. (Source: annies-gardens.com)

container williams-sonoma-galvanized-metal-planter-trough-gardenista

A new or vintage galvanized steel container makes a fine planter. (Source: gardenista.com)

Colanders-Upcycled-Planters

A herb garden in colourful colanders. (Source: redesignrevolution)

rainboots

Cheerful hanging gum boots. (Source: rosinahuber)

containter wheelbarrow

A spectacular show in an old wheelbarrow. (Source: hgtv.com)

lets upcycle colourful palette

A brightly painted shipping pallet with plastic cups. (Source: letsupcycle) You could apply the same principle using terra cotta pots or  interesting old cans, such as olive oil containers.

Although you’d be hard pressed to make these at home, we love the planters made from truck tires by Tadé, Pays du Levant, which we carry at Galerie CO. They’re modelled on ancient leather vessels, made strong and durable by the hard wearing nature of the rubber combined with the expertise of the traditional craftsmen who make them. However, they’re made in Syria so we can no longer get them due to the civil war in that country. Once our stock is gone, it’s gone. The loss of life and security in Syria is tragic. We feel the impact directly through the merchants and artisans whose livelihoods have been ruined by the conflict and we wish for a just resolution to the conflict so that all Syrians can begin to rebuild their lives.

recycled-tire-pots

Rubber tires transformed into planters. (Source: inhabitat)

On a lighter note, we’d love to hear from you. What’ the oddest thing you’ve ever used as a planter?

Tell us in a comment below, on our Facebook or Tweet us @GalerieCO

container inspire bohemia

(Source: inspirebohemia.com)

 

Heirloom tomatoes and tarts

It’s time to start planting your garden. If you are like me, you yearn for a sunny vegetable garden, but have to make do with a deck and some planters. Because space is limited, the decision about what to grow becomes important. I prioritize my herb choices, happily giving up parsley for sage, and losing oregano to thyme. And when it comes to tomatoes, I look for heirloom varieties, because if I can only grow a couple of plants I want them to be interesting, packed with flavour and gorgeous.

heirloom gourmet fury

Source (cropped): goumetfury.com

 What are the characteristics of “heirloom” vegetables?

  • Old. There is agreement that heirloom varieties must be old although no agreement on how old. Some say over 100 years, others say over 50 years, and still others other point to 1945 which coincided with the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies.
  • Open-pollinated. Heirloom varieties must be open-pollinated, which means that they are pollinated by insects, birds, wind or other natural mechanisms and are, by definition, not hybrids.
  • Cultivars. Heirlooms of all types are cultivated varieties (not wild) that have been deliberately selected for specific characteristics, and demonstrate consistent flavour, texture, colour and yields, for example.

Apart from their good looks and their great taste, it is vital to keep a wide range of heirloom vegetables (and flowers, trees, and livestock) growing from year to year to maximize the gene pool for future generations because vegetable varieties can become extinct just like any other living thing.

heirloom gardentherapy

Source: gardentherapy.com

It is thought that in the 20th century alone, around 75% of food crop varieties disappeared due to the spread of industrial agriculture and the movement of farmers towards monoculture – focusing on one crop – in the case of tomatoes, hybridized varieties bred for their commercially attractive characteristics. This alarming rate of genetic erosion places our conventional food supply at risk from plant epidemics and infestations as the line between abundance and potential disaster becomes thinner and thinner.

heirloom tomatoes (npr.com)

Source: npr.com

At Galerie CO we’re promoting heirloom tomatoes for Mother’s Day. On Saturday May 10 and Sunday May 11 we will give away a free heritage tomato seedling with any purchase of $60.00 and over (not including tax). The seedlings are grown organically in the Eastern Townships by Gwynne Basen of Tomatoes Etc. The offer is good until we run out of seedlings with a limit of one seedling per customer.

heirloom Tomato CostolutoGenoveseZ

Source: loghouseplants.com

To get you thinking about the culinary delicacies you could concoct with said tomatoes, I’m going to leave you with a mouth-watering recipe for an heirloom tomato tart from Julia Dawson, a wonderful Montreal food writer. This recipe appeared on the blog “The Main” and was inspired by the fresh heirloom tomatoes grown at Montreal’s Lufa Farms, which we featured recently on the blog.

heirloom tomato tart the main mtl

Source: www.themainmtl.com

Heirloom tomato tart

Serves 6

For the filling and topping:

  • 5 ounces goat’s cheese
  • 1 shallot, peeled and diced
  • 1½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (plus a couple sprigs for garnish)
  • 3-4 small/medium sized tomatoes, cut into ½” slices
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

For the tart crust:

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3to 4 tablespoons ice water

Directions:

In a food processor, pulse flour and salt together. Add the butter pieces and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal (there should be a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining). Add 2 tablespoons ice water through the feeding tube of the food processor. Pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if necessary, add up to 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time). Be careful not to over-mix, as it will toughen the dough.

On a floured surface, shape dough lightly into a disk. Wrap in cling-film and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days).

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Lightly flour work surface and roll out dough into a round that is a couple of inches larger than your pie plate. Prick the dough with a fork and wrap it around rolling pin and unroll over the pie plate. Gently fit into bottom and up sides of the baking plate and trim the excess.

Bake the crust in the preheated oven for 10 minutes (pre-baking a crust like this is called “baking blind” – it will help it from getting soggy from the filling).

Assembly:

In a medium bowl lightly toss to combine shallots, thyme and goat cheese. Spread into the bottom of warm tart shell and using the back of a spoon, spatula, or your fingers to cover bottom of tart.

Arrange tomato slices in a fan pattern with edges slightly overlapping each other. Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes and top with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove and allow to cool slightly before serving.

heirloom tomato-varieties tomato geeks

Source: tomatogeeks.com

What are your favourite tomato recipes? Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter . We love to hear from you!

Earth Day – urban agriculture in Montreal

Today is Earth Day and in Canada, in 2014, the theme is sustainable cities.

There are several ways that cities can work towards sustainability. These include: investing in adequate green space, responsible community design, “green” buildings and energy efficiency, public transportation, cycling infrastructure, reliable waste and water treatment, effective recycling programs and ensuring access to healthy food.

We’re interested in all of these issues, but right now it’s Spring and access to healthy food is front and centre. Local asparagus will soon be available, followed by strawberries and more, signalling the start of the early harvest. We can, if we wish, become “locavores” for a few precious months in the Northern hemisphere when we can choose to eat locally grown food that’s in season.

Quebec strawberriesQuebec strawberries, source: food and foto

For much of the rest of the year, despite the fact that we have unparalleled access to an abundance of exotic foods, we’re geographically disconnected from our food supply. This means that much of our produce travels hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from the farm to our tables.

Montreal’s Lufa Farms is working to reverse this. It’s a farm located on the roof of a building in an industrial park, which provides access to fresh vegetables all year round through innovative agricultural production in the heart of the city.

lufa farms - aerialAerial view of Lufa Farms, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Started in 2011, Lufa Farms was the first urban rooftop commercial agricultural production in the world. By 2012, it was feeding 2,000 people, using half the energy, water and nutrients of traditional agriculture. And that was just the beginning. We want to share its story to mark Earth Day and celebrate Lufa Farms’ contribution to making Montreal a more sustainable city.

8904340397_bdbc5a3169_bLufa Farms cherry tomatoes, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Mohammed Hage is the founder and president of Lufa Farms. His family is from a small town in Lebanon that is completely food self-sufficient, begging the question whether local urban food production is a new and innovative phenomenon. Hage acknowledges that modern urban agriculture is a re-creation of something very old, but he explains that the innovation comes from the fact that it is occurring in, around, and above ‘concrete jungles.’

This meeting of the old and the new is reflected in the hydroponic production process employed at Lufa Farms, which relies on a finely tuned balance between ancient techniques and state-of-the-art technology. For example, the greenhouses are pesticide- and fungicide-free relying on a pest management system that utilizes other insects; bees are used to pollinate and ladybugs to control the aphid and white fly populations. And no chemical fertilizers are used; green waste is composted to feed the plants.

Yet, in conjunction with these low-tech approaches high-tech technologies are employed.  Lufa Farms relies on solar energy and cutting-edge micro-climate management software, which captures energy efficiencies and carefully controls temperature and humidity levels throughout the greenhouse encouraging maximum yields for each crop. And a sophisticated closed-loop water system harvests rainwater and re-circulates the run-off from the plants.

bokchoyBok choy and Lufa’s hydroponic growing system, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Lufa Farms operates on a subscription basis, which is a great way for farmers to reduce crop waste because only the product that has been ordered is harvested. Customers sign up for a weekly box of food that can be customized up until midnight the night before the harvesting, picking and packing. The food is then delivered to one of several pickup points across the city, where it is collected by the customer.

lufa farms - pick and packPacking food boxes, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Hydroponic production is not eligible for organic certification in Canada, which is ironic in this case, considering the many economic, environmental and social benefits of this model of urban farming.

Healthy food. The produce is safe, uncontaminated by residues from chemical pesticides and fertilizers. In fact, some local produce (broccoli, green beans, kale, red peppers and tomatoes) may even have a higher nutrient value when it’s given more time to ripen, due to the shorter time between harvest and consumption. The produce is picked at their peak of ripeness and is in the hands of customers within 24 hours. The short turnover means it will tend to taste better, encouraging us all to eat more veggies! In fact, when farming locally, farmers can choose to plant cultivars for taste, rather than for transportability, so that the most flavourful varieties (rather than the hardiest varieties) are grown.

eggplantA perfect eggplant, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Environmental benefits. The environmental benefits from a hugely reduced carbon footprint as a result of drastic reductions in transportation, and energy efficiency in the greenhouse, are significant in lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the plants themselves remove carbon dioxide from the air, doing their bit in the battle against climate change. Efficiencies in water use and capturing run-off conserve and protect water resources, and promoting the cultivation of non-hybrid heirloom varieties helps protect the planet’s genetic diversity for future generations.

Food security. In a time of urbanization this type of local urban agriculture contributes to feeding increasing numbers of city dwellers and to ensuring a secure and sustainable food supply.

lufa-farms-food-process-diagram

source: Lufa Farms via myhealthywire.com

Strengthening communities. Drop-off points in communities encourage exchanges of ideas, recipes, and even produce. And when the people who produce your food, live and work in your community, you, your children and your neighbours know a lot more about that food.

Supporting the local economy. Money that is spent with local farmers stays close to home and is typically used to provide employment to local people and is reinvested in businesses and services in the community.

All of this helps explain why projects like Lufa Farms are so important in an effort to build sustainable cities.

“Forty years ago, prior to the construction of the industrial building, there used to be a farm and a farmer used to work here, feeding people. For thirty seven years that spot was replaced by an industrial building that contributed to heat islands and displaced the farmer. The good news is that this spot is, once again, a fertile plot of land employing many and feeding many, many, more and helping make our world become a better place. So, imagine cities that feed their own inhabitants. Imagine communities that are connected by farms. Imagine knowing your farmer and knowing your food.” (How rooftop farming will change how we eat, Mohamed Hage TEDxUdeM)

heirloom tomato

A perfect tomato, source: Lufa Farms flickr

Lufa Farms has formed partnerships with other local food companies with similar values and offers an online marketplace where customers can shop for most of their groceries. This model has been such a big hit with Montrealers that a second greenhouse has been built to keep up with local demand and further expansion is in the pipeline.

Happy Earth Day everyone!

 

Do you have an experience with urban agriculture? How are you recognizing Earth Day? We’d love to hear from you. You can comment below, tweet us @GalerieCO or leave us a message on our Facebook page.

Decorating for Easter with natural dyes

Easter is right around the corner. But there’s still time to have some fun in the lead up to next week’s holiday. This weekend, why not try your hand at dyeing some eggs using natural ingredients that you can find around your house?

Easter Egg Tree - Easter crafts and decorations via Remodelista

Source: remodelista.com

Civilizations have used natural dyes dating back to the Neolithic period. The majority are made from common, locally available organic materials. They are vegetable dyes from plant sources such as roots, berries, leaves and wood, which produce pure shades that mellow with age but preserve their true colours.

However, the discovery of man-made synthetic dyes in the mid-19th century triggered a decline in the market for natural dyes. The new chemical dyes could be produced in large quantities and introduced vibrant colours such as bright purple, magenta and fuishia. They quickly superseded natural dyes for the commercial textile production enabled by the industrial revolution. Unlike natural dyes, however, chemical dyes tend to fade with age rather than mellow naturally. 

Fast forward to the present day; the market for natural dyes is experiencing resurgence with consumers becoming more concerned about the health effects and environmental impacts of chemical dyes.

Easter, vibrant naturally dyed eggs. Source: kitchn.com

Source: kitchn.com

We’re happy to jump on this bandwagon and with Easter approaching we’ve pulled together some “recipes” for natural dyes that you can use to decorate your eggs, which can then be used to decorate your home. Continue reading