For The Love Of Cooking

I guess I have always been a teacher at heart. Right from my first jobs at radio stations I worked at across Canada, I was always showing people how to do things, be they technical or writing/editing, as I worked my way up from supervisor to associate news director to producer. When I chose food and travel to be my specialty as a freelancer, soon enough came along the opportunity to teach Food and Travel Writing and Blogging courses at UBC, at first in person, but now in a 100% online format.

As I progressed to being a ‘food celebrity’ of sorts, one who enjoyed bringing food I had cooked into radio studios for hosts to taste, there came invitations to do cooking ‘demos’ to showcase a certain product or just to be on stage to add into the merriment of a festival or some sort of special event. I even raced then-CBC Radio host Rick Cluff to see who could whisk up a silky sabayon the fastest at the Pan Pacific Hotel’s Opera Buffet.

Somewhere along the way I was asked to teach cooking classes, and I did so for quite a few years, at Cook Culture in Victoria, Kilrenny Farm in the Cowichan Valley, and various one-offs here and there, especially during promoting my book, Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

But then life changed for a while. My food and travel journalism and cooking classes took back seat to my role as a union organizer and defender of freelancers’ rights at the Canadian Media Guild Freelance Branch.

I’ve really missed the food journalism and food educator part of my life. So…I’m leaping back in, just on a part-time basis at first. I’m very happy to have landed at The London Chef, a catering company and cooking school based in downtown Victoria. Starting this month, I’ll be teaching 1-2 classes a month in my favourite cuisines. Starting with some classic Sicilian dishes, a summery Italian menu, and moving on to teaching people about sustainable seafood. You can find the descriptions of all the menus on The London Chef website. These are really fun classes as they are all hands-on. You get your hands and aprons dirty as you learn how to make pasta from scratch and wrap pork chops in sage and prosciutto before cooking them with a Marsala/butter/sage sauce. I know, right?

So I hope you will join me for one of more of my courses. You will eat very well!


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Food For Thought – Sustainable Seafood

Img_3378Ummmm…fried anchovies!  Otherwise known as Cicciarelli, these are a Slow Food Presidia product fished from the ocean waters off Liguria. And they were a perfect snack with which to wander the aisles at Slow Fish in Genova, Italy, the first weekend of May.

You can hear an mp3 of my Food For Thought documentary about what some expert panelists think about aquaculture and sustainable seafood methods by clicking here .

Img_3403 You’ll hear from John Volpe at the University of Victoria Environmental Studies department and why he thinks the perfect formula for sustainable seafood gives equal importance to social,  ecological and economic issues.  Next up  is Valentina Tepedino is a veterinarian specializing in marine life.  She thinks aquaculture is the answer  to meet the growing demand for seafood, but only if it is done the right way!  She edits a magazine called ‘Eurofishmarket’, which is in Italian, but you can surf around to find some interesting info on common edible species of fish.


I also spoke with Brian Halweil, senior researcher of the WorldWatch Institute in Washington, DC. He spoke about the need for people to start eating lower on the fish food chain, small fish such as anchovies and sardines that are perfectly good food sources from sustainable fisheries, instead of using them to feed larger carnivorous species in fish farms.  He also talked about raising only vegetarian fish such as catfish, monkfish and carp so we don’t use animal protein to grow more animal protein.  Unfortunately people aren’t too keen on eating these kinds of fish.  Brian also mentioned some fascinating experiments going on in North America regarding a ‘polyculture’ of aquaculture.  This would see algae being raised on the surface of a net pen which would make up part of the feed for salmon.  The salmon feces that normally settle on the ocean floor could be partly taken care of by filter feeders such as mussels and oysters being grown on strings below the salmon.  I want to do some more research on these types of farms when I return to North America.

Someone else I met and interviewed was Anne Mosness, from Bellingham, Washington. She fished in the Gulf of Alaska for 28 years, now is part of the Go Wild Campaign and was also distributing some fact sheets from the Food and Water Watch.  You’ll hear from her in my next podcast.

News Flash!  A committee of the British Columbia legislature has just released (May 16/07) a report on aquaculture which calls for an end to salmon farming as it is now conducted on the West Coast.  Here is a link to CBC Coverage of the story and a link to the actual Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture report.

The committee was dominated in membership by the opposition party, the New Democrats.  Don’t expect to see the ruling Liberal party to leap to implement the recommendations.

I have lots more links for you if you are interested in Aquaculture and Sustainable Seafood.


The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California was one of the first aquariums to link seafood sustainability to consumers in a user-friendly program:

In Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium has followed suit in conjunction with the David Suzuki Foundation to create the Ocean Wise program that restaurants can join, if the majority of the fish they serve in the restaurant is deemed to be a sustainable resource.

This link takes you to a company that wants to sell genetically modified fish to growers. It has actually trademarked one of its products you will see on its homepage.

The link below leads to the homepage of the Darwin’s Nightmare documentary and what happened to a lake in Africa that ‘fell prey’ to an introduced species of fish:

A review of the documentary is here:

And to read how one aquaculture industry puts itself out there in the world with a positive spin, check out the media pages of the British Columbia Salmon Farming Association:


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Food Matters – Cooking with Coconut Oil

Trends in cooking come and go. Whether a style of cooking or a particular ingredient has staying power often depends on its perceived health benefits and almost certainly on its flavour. Today on Food Matters, I looked into coconut oil through a cookbook published by a local author.

Cooking with Coconut Oil

Cooking with Coconut Oil

Coconut oil hasn’t really been on my radar, but Vikram Vij did mention it as a growing trend he loves when he was here in Victoria a couple of weeks ago, and I did know that a food blogger and photographer I know from Sidney, Elizabeth Nyland, was working on a cookbook featuring coconut oil, so as soon as it came out I asked her to get me a copy and here it is, Cooking with Coconut Oil.

For Elizabeth it’s an oil she’s actually been using for years, and when her publisher approached her to do a cookbook on it she happily agreed. When we chatted yesterday, she told me that a few decades ago, coconut oil was seen as an evil oil.

Elizabeth Nyland

Elizabeth Nyland

“In the 80’s saturated fats were really vilified from a health standpoint, but they were everywhere, even your popcorn in movie theatres was popped in coconut oil, but with the vilification the use of coconut oil just dropped away, even though it has been used for thousands of years for a variety of purposes in other parts of the world. Finally a few years ago, and I don’t know who started promoting it, maybe the coconut oil companies, ha ha, but it’s come back, especially since we’ve learned that saturated fat from coconut isn’t as evil as they said it was.”

The health benefits ascribed to coconut oil are many and varied, and Elizabeth describes one concoction I’d really like to try instead of breakfast one morning in which you add coconut oil and butter made from milk from grass-fed cows to coffee for something called ‘bulletproof coffee’. It’s a big fat and caffeine bomb that is supposed to give you a lot of get up and go. Not everyone agrees, but I encourage you to do your own research on the benefits of coconut oil, which include anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. You might also be interested in this comparison of olive oil and coconut oil.

About the flavour: To me the flavour of the coconut oil is very neutral, and if you are really into coconut you can use coconut flour, which is a gluten-free product, and I should mention that all the recipes in Cooking with Coconut Oil are gluten-free and paleo friendly. Coconut butter, which Elizabeth also uses in some of her recipes, is made from dried coconut fibre, and definitely has a coconut flavour. I was able to take the dried coconut in my pantry, whizz it in my Thermomix for about 3 minutes with a little bit of heat and I had coconut butter.

Coconut flour, oil and butter.

Coconut flour, oil and butter

When I started shopping for coconut oil I was surprised to see a number of different brands in the supermarkets I looked in, so I asked Elizabeth what to look for: “I recommend organic coconut oil to stay away from pesticides, and you should make sure the oil is unrefined and virgin. Virgin means the oil is pressed from coconut, but the term is used because people are familiar with the idea of virgin olive oil. You don’t want refined oil because it may have been refined using hexane gas, and it doesn’t have to be labeled that way.”

Maple Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

Maple Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

The first thing I made with coconut oil was a veggie stir-fry. It has a high smoking point, so it’s pretty good with high heat, but I ate all of that, sorry! But I did bake a recipe from Elizabeth’s cookbook, and they are her maple-bacon chocolate chip cookies, so delicious I had to put them away soon after they came out of the oven or I may have eaten them all at once! To purchase Elizabeth’s cookbook, which is full of savoury and sweet recipes using coconut oil, just click here to get to and save 28% off the cover price.


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Food Artisans – Dakini Tidal Wilds

The blog is back! As I prepare the second edition of my book, Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, I’m going to post about some of the new artisans who will be added. First up is Dakini Tidal Wilds.

Amanda Swinimer’s passion is kelp. Yes, that green stuff from the sea. Around 30 different kinds of kelp are found in the waters around Vancouver Island. It’s easy to get caught up in her passion if you listen to her talk about the medicinal and nutritional qualities of this seaweed she’s been harvesting on a commercial basis since the early 2000’s. Her sustainably-harvested products include dried winged kelp and bull kelp, rich in minerals and vitamins. Her dried product is available online and in many of the specialty shops described in this book.



Chefs also order seaweed from her to use on their menus. On an outing with Amanda to learn about seaweed off of Whiffin Spit near Sooke with chef Oliver Kienast of Wild Mountain Food & Drink, I was treated to seaweed tea, bread, spread, and even popcorn sprinkled with Dakini’s Kelp Flakes. Seaweed is loaded with umami, that mysterious fifth basic taste after sweet, salty, sour, and bitter that may be hard to describe other than saying, ‘tastes good’.

Amanda is a marine biologist and also a folk herbalist, which means she also makes medicinal salves out of seaweed. She told me she got turned onto seaweed while learning about wild crafting with herbs. “You should have seen my tiny one-bedroom apartment,” she laughs. “It was always laced wall-to-wall with long strings of seaweed hanging to dry.”

She says Dakini is a goddess found in Indian and Tibetan beliefs, among others. Her favourite definition fits her to a T, “The wild and free-dancing spirit of women.”

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Food Matters – Mylkmaid Beverage Company

In today’s world of food allergies, intolerances and ethical eating, having different choices is key, especially when it comes to beverages. This week on Food Matters, I profiled a dairy alternative that’s making a splash on the local market.

Mylk, 3 flavours

Mylk, 3 flavours

Mylk  gets its main flavour from almonds, and is manufactured in Victoria by the Mylkmaid Beverage Company and Kiley McLean. Kiley started making and drinking almond milk about five years ago. “I had just been reading about how some of the cows in the large scale industrial milk production system are mistreated and thought that I should try an alternative, like almond milk. But when I tasted it and started reading the labels on commercially available almond milk products I wasn’t that impressed. When I figured out that it should just basically contain almonds and water, I started experimenting with making it and came up with something that tastes much better, you can actually taste almonds.”


Kiley McLean of Mylkmaid Beverage Company

Kiley McLean of Mylkmaid Beverage Company

Once her family and friends tasted her almond milk she started making it for them, and then got the idea of doing it on a small-scale basis and selling it weekly at the Moss Street Market Saturday mornings. With that market over for the season, Kiley decided to reach out to some local grocery stores like Fairfield Market, Niagara Grocery and Peppers, and it’s growing from there. Part of what made her carry on was the positive response she got from tasters at the farmer’s market, some of whom had tried commercially made almond milk in the past and didn’t like it, but they liked hers because of the fresher flavour and creamier texture. Her basic product line consists of three flavours, all starting with Pure, which is just organic almonds, water and a touch of Saltwest sea salt. Vanilla adds a sweetener made from organic Medjool dates and a vanilla bean, while Cacao adds cocoa powder. Over the summer and fall Kiley made seasonal favourites using strawberries, figs and she just finished up with a batch using fresh pumpkin. One of her holiday flavours adds some peppermint into the cacao version.

Price: I think you can put them in what I would call a premium quality price range. $4.99 for 250 millilitres. Keep in mind it’s an organic product, and organic almonds are particularly pricy, but people are still buying, says Kiley: “People are kind of wowed at the difference, but the stuff in the store can barely have any almonds at all, and it just has so many different additives in it to make up the consistency of milk. The thickness of our Mylk comes just from the almonds. I find that with our Mylk you just maybe need a little less, because it’s so creamy, and maybe you are just adding a little to your coffee, or maybe to smoothies, a lot of people are putting almond milk in their smoothies, and you really just need like a splash, you don’t need a whole cup of it in your smoothie to make it creamy.”

This is just a part-time job for her now, she would like to turn it into a full-time career, and to do that she would like to get some cafes and coffee shops carrying her product for use as creamers or in lattes. This weekend Kiley will be spreading the word on Mylk at Silk Road Tea in Chinatown as she shows people how to make tea lattes with her product.

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Step Into A New Career: Blogging, and Food and Travel Writing

Porto Empedocle, Sicily

Porto Empedocle, Sicily

It’s that time of year. Step up. Self-improvement? New hobby? New Career? New words on the page, that’s it! My UBC Continuing Studies Courses aimed at helping you be a better blogger, or getting you into the exciting field of food and travel writing, are set to start at the end of this month.

You have three choices: Food and Travel Writing In-Person. Eight Monday nights starting January 26th. Or you can take this course online over the same time period. Each week you open up a module of new readings and assignments, with much personal interaction with me and your classmates through online forums. The third course is Creating and Sustaining Your Blog, also offered 100% online beginning the end of January.

The advantage of the online courses is that you don’t have to be in the same place at the same time for eight weeks in a row, which works better for some students. Others prefer the ‘face to face’ aspect of the in-person class. Either way, I am ‘yours’ for two months so you can use my knowledge in these fields to get you going or improve what you’re already doing. For more information or to register, you can find all the courses on my page at the Continuing Studies website. And you can always contact me at don at don genova dot com. Hope to see you online or in-person very soon!

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