Foodie Friday for February 4, 2022

I grew up in a family where my mother spent much of her day in the kitchen or in the garden (that’s her on the left with a 3.5 pound tomato from the garden).Spending the time harvesting vegetables like peas, corn, beans, lettuce, tomatoes and more in the garden meant lots of time spent processing them in the kitchen. And yet she always made the time to put a really decent meal on the table for our family of five. She knew how to cook, how to shop for what she didn’t have in the garden, and didn’t have a huge collection of cookbooks. She clipped recipes from newspapers and magazines and taped them into a big notebook. The ‘tips’ she gleaned from her readings were cut out and taped to the inside of the kitchen cabinet doors. I’m lucky that I frequently watched her cook and helped her with shopping and in the garden and picked up the basics of cooking almost by osmosis, because before I left home I never really cooked anything but still knew how most things worked in the kitchen.

These days newspaper food sections aren’t what they used to be, with fewer recipes published every week. And I think a lot of young people in the generations that followed my mother’s readily adapted to take-out meals, convenience foods, and dining out. Cook from scratch? Whazzat? But the advent of the pandemic drove people into their homes and seeking new ways to use those kitchens that maybe were gathering cobwebs. So where to find some good basic cookbooks to help you out? Russell Books in downtown Victoria, of course.

Russell Books is Canada’s largest used bookstore and many of the books available are considered ‘new remaindered’. That is, they have never been sold before and they are at a considerable discount. Most Fridays I have tested recipes from 3 or 4 different cookbooks and bring my results and recommendations to you via social media. Here’s this week’s You Tube.

You can find the books at Russell Books at 747 Fort St. in Victoria, BC, or order from them online.

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

The Blue Apron Cookbook

The Quick Family Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen

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Foodie Friday for January 28, 2021

For readers who don’t know, I’ve been working with the people at Russell Books in Victoria, BC for the past year or so to provide them some social media for their cookbook section. Russell Books is Canada’s largest used bookstore. ‘Used’ is a relative term. Most of the cookbooks I feature every week are called ‘new remaindered’. This means they have never been sold before, and are like new, but at really great discounted prices, sometimes as much as 50 to 70 percent off the cover price.

My Foodie Friday features used to feature just one book a week. I would photograph and take short videos of three recipes I made from that single book but over the holidays I started doing a video feature in which I would feature a number of cookbooks, and photos from each recipe I tried out in my home ‘test kitchen’. Here’s the latest one for your enjoyment and edification. After you start the video you can hit the CC button to activate the captions.

You can find the books at Russell Books at 747 Fort St. in Victoria, BC, or order them online at Books mentioned this week:

  • Whole Protein Vegetarian by Rebecca Miller Ffrench (yes, two ‘f’s!)
  • Good for You by Akhtar Nawab
  • The Grain Bowl by Nik Williamson
  • 7 Ways by Jamie Oliver
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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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