Thursday, August 26, 2010

food sovereignty part 2: Reconnecting with the suppliers

The second salient question of the Food Sovereignty forum was, "How can we extend awareness of good local food?"
The unanimous answer was "Farmer's Markets"

And there are many in Perth.
My local one, is in Palmyra Primary School on Mckimmie street. So I head off looking for all the ingredients for Sunday lunch. It's not a huge collection of stalls and most are fruit and vegetables. It's a cheerful place with a steady stream of buyers. I'm slightly disappointed I won't be able to buy everything in one place but that's not really the point; the more customers who visit a market, the more stall holders will come. We have a small amount of power in that respect.

We choose grapefruits from Gin Gin, strawberries from Wanneroo, eggs from Pinjarra and simply can't go past Gourmet Mushrooms from Gidgegannup.
Swan Valley Gourmet Fungi
- Grow your own gourmet mushroom kits, Oyster mushrooms
213 Old Toodyay Rd, Gidgegannup 6083 / email
David Proudmore ph 9574 6540 mb 0414 478 826

David started off as an environmental scientist and has ended up as a facilitator of the most beautiful fungi, they are a living art installation and very hard to pass by without stopping to admire. And as we stop we are offered samples, and are hooked. I ask David why Farmers' Markets work for him. "You can't beat direct selling for feedback. The two way information between us and the end consumer is invaluable to our business. We like to be appreciated"
We buy a handful of mushrooms for $5 and with the eggs we have our lunch.

Oyster Mushroom Omelet: local to 100kms? Yes. In fact I could buy an oyster mushroom growing kit and be local to 5 metres)
Sautee the mushrooms in olive oil and butter, add local organic parsley (10 metres local to my kitchen), and black pepper and we have lunch

I don't quite know what this gadget is for, not whisking eggs that's for sure as it won't break up the albumen.

Back at the McKimmie street market I ask if there is any meat to be had and am told to take the short trip to Lefroy Street in South Freo for the jewel in the crown of Sunday Farmer's markets: The Grower's Green Community Market. I am told I will find organic meat. I grab my child and propel him to the car and zoom off.

This is Freo after all. Tie -dye aplenty

It is buzzing. The car park is so busy it needs an attendant. There are stalls arranged around a centre of cafe style tables. There is a stage with belly-dancers and African drummers. I can buy Moroccan spiced tea and arrange to have my pet professionally photographed and feed with Natural Dog Cookies. I can stay all morning have breakfast, brunch and lunch. This is a Day Out.

There is no mistaking the driving force behind all these stalls; they are proud to be local. The first banner one sees on entrance is from Karra Orchard.
Here we can buy all the fresh produce we want, and what my son and I really want is apples for the lunchbox that are not the size of a fist, they don't get eaten. We are faced with glorious mountains of apples that have just been picked and washed - not sized and sprayed and stored. There are small ones, medium sized ones and we quickly choose the ones that suit us.

thanks to these chaps

I buy my son a banana icecream and station him to the side of the Redtail Ridge stall. and set about pestering one of the owners Mike Gaebler.
Redtail Ridge farm started out with olives and expanded to cattle. Mike drives the 280 km distance from the farm in Mumballup on Fridays, makes deliveries to his large customer base and spends Saturday and Sunday between Subiaco, Bentley and Lefroy Street Farmers' Markets. The meat is frozen and transported in a refrigerated van. Mike's stall is very impressive. His shiny new van is resplendent with the company logo and although he displays no meat the brand clearly attracts a large crowd. Most of the customers know what they want already but Mike is skilled at matching need to product and sends people home with the best cuts and tips on how to cook the dishes they fancy. The customers certainly feel there has been an experience of value.

Between the brisk stream of customers Mike kindly answers my questions and problems around processing come up again and again; as I discovered last week at the Food Sovereignty forum, Annie Kavanagh of Spencers Brook Farm relies on contract butchers who will take her product if and when it suits them, often pushing back the dates if a larger corporate customer is putting on the heat. Annie and Mike advocate a network of small Regional Food Processing Centres with access to cool-rooms, health and safety advice and marketing consultancy. At present she can find the logistics to ship tonnes of product but not kilograms.

In order to address difficulties of scale Kim Chance talked of getting rid of Health and Safety red tape and introducing small domestic abattoirs which are not forced to operate at Export Standard, set incidently by the World Trade Organisation and the USDA. Few facilities have stepped up to support the small producers' needs as Export standards demanded at Domestic level mean 350 head of cattle per day would need to go through in order to maintain the cost of meeting those standards.

Rearing and supplying a thoroughly organic product is a costly business in time and money and those that see it through to the finish invest a great deal of both. The contract butcher used by Redtail Ridge has Organic Certification to ensure the product is Organic at every stage of production. Mike Gaebler is certain of this qualification at that stage in the chain because he had to pay for it. "It's about control, and in order to guarantee our meat was butchered organically, we had to fund the butcher's training ourselves." Ultimately Mike believes the cost is worth it, "Our product has integrity and that value is appreciated by the customers." I appreciate the 1.5 kilo bolar blade roast for under 20 bucks. And a jar of organic Kalamata olives. Roast beef with olive tapenade crust for dinner tomorrow as the joint is frozen it will need to thaw.

Recipe next week.

So would one do this each week? Basics and boring stuff at the supermarkets and IGAs and support for local producers at the weekends? Is it reasonable to expect the "average" consumer to afford the time and money to shop this way? Food buying options can be spread across a broad portfolio of choices, as the Food Sovereignty panel concured towards the end of the discussion. A consumer will spread the activity across the supermarket and, if we are lucky and make enough noise, independent food stores who care about selling local produce and of course Farmer's Markets. Kim Chance pointed out that today food has never been so cheap, especially in comparison to our Grandparents' days. Consumers do have spending power to make a difference and a distinct desire to reconnect with suppliers if only the opportunities are supported by agricultural Policy and retail facilities.

Will the new government listen?

Link to Farmer's Markets Perth

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Food Sovereignty: Does it matter where your food comes from?

Western Australia is a big, big state. So big that just looking at it on the map gives me the shivers: too vast, it simply cannot be all one territory. I 'm used to a single sweep of a weatherman's arm taking in 6 EU countries and a myriad of local regions. Something else that gives me the shivers is that 90% of all food grown here is exported, leaving 10% consumed across Australia nationwide and a smaller fraction of that food available to local consumers.
Where I come from regional identity is often expressed in food; Cornish Pasty, Cumberland Sausage and Bakewell Tart. Sure, they are all for sale in Tesco right across the land but also in the villages where they are produced. The actual hands-on pasty maker can get their product directly to eager, traditional consumers easily via the village shop and more importantly at the Farmer's Market. Could that ever happen here? Does the average WA consumer have any connection to local producers or are most of her/her food choices made in the third party at Supermarket Central Office?

On August 24th Christchurch Grammar School Ethics Centre hosted a forum organised by Slow Food Perth on tackling the question of how we as local consumers can, if at all, connect with local producers.

Food shopping in Perth Metro is a vastly different experience from shopping in the UK. One learns to stock up at Woolworths, Coles or even IGA for the generic staples. Increasingly one may gasp with delight when artisan producers are included on the shelves next to the Big Guys, for example but generally all we know about the produce is that it once lived in a warehouse by the airport. As a Foreigner one learns that a week's shopping means visiting several stores and actively seeking 0ut products with seasonality and a connection to the local area. Personally, I like to befriend Butchers: if you show them you are taking time to think about the cuts and animals you are buying they grow quite friendly.

Meat that was the symbol for the issues raised ast night's Food Sovereignty forum. All the questions asked by SlowFood's Jamie Kronborg can be mapped out with Meat production and consumption. Jamie's opening question was "Do consumers Influence Production?"

Let me introduce you to the panel from second left to right:

Anthony Georgeff is editor of Spice Magazine, which is a champion of small local producers. Anthony answered "People are patronised by the big corporations, they who purposefully separate us from the small producers." He believes consumers can definitely influence producers if given the chance.

Annie Kavanagh runs Spencers Brook Farm in the Avon Valley She specialises in rare breeds with Berkshire pigs, Long Horned Wiltshire sheep and Dexter cattle all farmed to the highest organic and free range standards. My ears pricked up at the mention of Berkshire pigs I can tell you. Annie has been president of the Organic Farming Association and sells her pork at Mt Claremont and Subiaco Farmer's Markets. To get her produce to the plates of Perth she has to wear every single hat in the food chain from pig-wrangler to PR specialist. Her biggest challenge is blinkered retailers.
"When we have placed our pork with retail butchers they complain is sometimes too fat, sometimes too lean which confuses the customer. Our pigs live natural, seasonally-driven lives and a winter chop is markedly different from a lean summer one." It would seem that the customer, used to picking a standard polythene-wrapped pack off the shelf at Coles is mistrustful of anything that doesn't match the graphic in the catalogue. Annie continued, "Farmer's Markets are the answer. I can have direct contact with the consumer with the great advantage of offering a taste and an explanation." Annie, like most of the panel, advocated giving the consumer the opportunity to buy from different systems of production.

"Food grown somewhere near you is great," stated Kim Chance, farmer and former Minister for Food and Agriculture in WA. He went on to frame the debate on a global scale: "There are two paradigms in the matter of food choices. Much of the world either gets by on rice and fish or is conditioned through suppression of choice or budget restrictions to buy only what the global food giants are offering. There is, however, still room for the discerning consumer who has access to choice." He balanced issues by reminding us that globalisation of the food industry as not all bad. He cited Japan as a country reliant on this as it has a GDP of just 1% from agriculture. Being able to supplying the Japanese with food imports benefits WA enormously. We can't really catigate the food giants while as All Bad when we owe them some of our lucky lifestyle.

The second farmer and politician of the panel ex-Western Australian National Party leader Max Trenorden highlighted the contrasting health issues globalisation of food production has given the world; famine and malnutrition versus the raft of diseases such as diabetes and obesity associated with bad food choices in the developed and developing world. He pointed out that lack of choices, whether it be nutrient-poor staples or trans-fat filled standards is damaging the health of the world amongst both the Haves and the Have-Nots. Max says world food production rates are rising but that didn't mean the right kind of food was in the right place. He wanted to capitalise on the evidence that the consumer within the upper echelons of the closed markets does have belief in Local food, "In the West, especially Europe, 60% of all consumers want quality, one third of whom will pay a premium for it. Surely we can take that trend and run with it in WA?" Max believes that the state should try harder to strengthen this trend.

Dr Felicity Newman, who lectures on Food and Culture at the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University was also keen to emphasise the two tier class-based system of food choices. She believes those that can afford to make the quality choice are beholden to support small, non-industrialised growers. Felicity drove the debate onwards by asking how this might be spread this further throughout the state to generate connection to local producers and encourage consumers to value local produce.

After the first round of answers it was pretty clear that the consumer can have an impact on food production, on the one hand through complience and through choosing to spend their food dollars on local produce of the best quality on the other. Food Sovereignty is an issue of interest to a considerable base of consumers who want to make thoughtful choices and to be connected to what they eat for health reasons and to show support to local growers. The next question is "How do we make it easier to connect the producer and consumer?"

That question will be addressed in part two of this report after some field-research. I set myself the practical task of buying all the ingredients for Saturday's dinner grown within 100 kilometres of my house.

View Larger Map

I feel roast pork coming on, but then I usually do.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Flapjacks:UK back-to-schoolers, put this in their lunch boxes instead of cold pop-tarts

I had a request for a flapjack recipe that could be made on Sunday nights and put in lunchboxes Monday to Friday.

This one is endlessly adaptable, depending on what kind of roughage and nuts and seeds your children will not pick out. The condensed milk ensures it does not turn brittle and keeps it tender. I would imagine industrial versions use corn syrup and glucose for this function. If you don't use the nuts and seeds given here, you will need to use about 50g of other dry or moist ingredients to get the right ratio of oaty goodness to textural adorment.

Oven at 160 degrees C

125g butter
100g caster sugar
ah, now, dessertspoonsful of golden syrup - there is no metric conversion, you just need three of them (heat the spoon first and it will slip off luxuriantly)
1 dessertspoon of condensed milk

Melt all this together gently in a pan then stir in
200g of quick cook oats
1 tablespoon of sesame seeds
1 tablespoon of poppy seeds
25g chopped nuts of your choice
a pinch of salt

Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment and pour in the mixture. With wet finger-tip press it in to the corners and drop in a couple of times on the counter top to settle it and bake it for 20 minutes or until the edges are looking golden not brown. Turn off the oven and leave it in there for another 10 minutes. Take it out and mark out portion divisions before it cools down.

I haven't made any of this for a while as one of my children would be thoroughly affronted if I suggested he eat it. However, if I could wrap it in LCM livery I would include it in his lunchbox. So here is a picture of a poppy from whence the seeds come.

Come to think of it, Lemon poppyseed and yogurt cake is an absolute corker. Available on request

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Paula Fitzgerald: Caterpillar Bites

Caterpillar Bites

Part one of an occasional series looking at women in the food industry in Perth.

Paula Fitzgerald has always had artistic tendencies. In high school she wanted to be a painter but was dismayed by the paltry prices work at art fairs was fetching. She relegated sketching and painting to hobby status and trained as a chef. Paula spent time in Devon and Italy and returned to Perth to focus on pastry work. For the last 5 years she has been providing the superior sweet delights for top catering company Comestibles However, 18 months ago her artistic streak just had to come to the forefront of her work and she launched Caterpillar Bites.

From a corner of the Comestibles kitchen in East Perth, Paula does her thing - birthdays and weddings are the chief income earners but as Paula says "once a client has used Caterpillar Bites for a child's birthday they tend to come back again and again for special occasions throughout the year; work colleagues' parties, father's day, Granny and Grandparent's golden wedding anniversary - it just spirals." Paula has struck oil during this time of fascination with professional cake decorating, the food network has Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss back to back on virtual rotation. A professionally decorated cake is recognised as an expression of creativity and dedication and the smartest move a host can make, not just the crumbly, sticky end of the meal.

So what makes Paula Fitzgerald and Caterpillar Bites different? On her website we can see her vast range of designs: Cheeky Devil Care Bare, Pink Tiara for girls and for boys Yoda and a Rusty VW Beetle amongst the Thomas the Tank Engines and even silver porsche spyder with red leather upholstery.
"Anyone can decorate a cake, it just depends to what standard." Paula takes her business very seriously - she is off to the UK to train with Debbie Brown, the undisputed Empress of Innovative Cake Design "I've waited for 5 years to get a place on one of her courses, this is the ultimate learning experience. Debbie's work is clean with a crisp finish, it is flawless," Paula tells me. "I want to learn all the secrets of the art." Debbie Brown, whom Paula describes as the supreme cake decorating icon started small, from home and was in the right place at the right time to bring the art thundering into the commercial arena and get in first on a series of best-selling how-to books. Paula appreciates this set of business skills. There are plenty of women who do sugar craft as a hobby, offering to make an Optimus Prime Transformer cake for their nephew's birthday, shutting themselves away for 8 days, fingers stained with red and blue and eyes crossed with the effort of replicating the right engine grill in fondant. They emerge frazzled and find it hard to emotionally detach from an item that will ultimately be devoured. Paula is a pragmatist who has found her calling and woven it in with her strong business sense.

Paula is a true artist as she makes time to explore and focus on craftmanship and techinique, expanding ideas and trialing new methods.
This parade-ground of chocolate teddies was made for pleasure. She found the chocolate fondant in a cake supplies shop and began practising. She made more and more, the teddies multiplied and with each one a techinique was honed: the stitched effect on the seams, the slightly different expressive position of the arms makes each one an individual. Paula gets much of her inspiration from ceramics and figurines as sugar works structurally in much the same way.

Paula charges properly for her time and she has never had a disappointed customer. "I've learned not to cave in should a client's face fall at the point of delivery - $300 for a cake!" The cost of Paula's time is used on design, sometimes in collaboration with the customer, details, baking, assembling, decorating, details, delivery and installation often with as much care as an art gallery curator. Did she mention the attention to detail? "I never let a cake leave the kitchen without a little hand-painted detail, be it lustre dust for the shaping on a duck's beak or the roses on a mermaid's cheek," confrims Paula. She prides herself on being precise in the details, for each client they are personalised even down to the hair colour and outfit of the birthday child.

Along with a true respect for the discipline of cake decorating Paula's business gives space to her naturally caring side. On her website she reassures clients that she will take care of dietary requirements, delivery and make sure the client sits back and enjoys the party. "I think parties should be memorable and fun for both parents and children," she declares. "A stressed hostess is likely to be a snappy hostess and it's my role to take that stress away." Not only will Paula's service dissolve anxiety but it will cast a serene, shimmering glow of limelight in which the hostess can bask, reflected perfectly in Paula's talent.

Paula was kind enough to show step by step pictures of the UP cake on her website

Once the cake is in situ and has drawn coos of wonder and admiration from the guests, all of which the host can absorb, and then been photographed with cake honouree, cut, cooed over a whole lot more and eaten, the guests' pictures up-loaded to Facebook and Twitter , the cost is really quite modest considering the high mileage of pleasure the cake gives through all stages of its life.

Paula is thinking of the future of Caterpillar Bites and it will get expensive in the short-term. Light industrial units and equipment are costly yet in the long-term Paula is confident her product can deliver enough returns to succeed. "Many women in small businesses have sold themselves short and cut costs only to find they are shooting themselves in the foot. I know my service has real value and I want to keep improving that." Does this mean more staff and delegation and, dare I say it, a dilution of control? "I'd happily have someone else waiting 2.5 hours in the kitchen for a mud cake to bake, but all the cake recipes are my own and I will not compromise on quality if I'm going to put my name to something," Paula says firmly.

Paula considers the appreciation of the cake decorator's art to be a fixture rather than a fad and believes its emotional impact will give in longevity in the food market-place. -"The end result can make people scream with joy. Seeing reactions like that make it all worthwhile, especially the responses from little kids." Paula has looked carefully in to her business and can crystalise its value perfectly; "It may last an hour at their party, but they remember the cake for many birthdays to come"

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Basics and beyond. Buy your stuff here

About half way up the Fitzgerald Street shopping strip your eyes will be drawn to a non-calorific candy-store for growups. If you are culinary-minded or creative in your creature comforts or enjoy brightly-coloured and shiny things then you will stop in your tracks at Basics and Beyond.

Angelo Tancredi has 10 years' experience of retail in London and has been operating in North Perth since 2008. His establishment has made a welcome splash of desire and enticement on the Fitzgerald High Street with its nod to the enticing and hard-working shop-fronts of the most popular of London's many village high-streets. In fact, it makes me feel like I'm back in Islington, Upper Street to be exact. Only I won't have to lease an internal organ to make a purchase.

Among the many, many gorgeous objects such as retro starburst clocks or a set of Japanese laquer-ware rice bowls I may want for my birthday, is the Cook Ware section. And it's good. And by that I mean Well Thought Out: There is a wall of practical blister-packed gadgets (I came away with things I needed; an oven thermometer, a set of ceramic blind-baking beads). There are another two walls of solid, sensible equipment including a cabinet of good knives and possibly the entire Scan Pan range. We all know we could update and expand our stock of baking sheets and chopping boards, that's common sense if you are a keen cook ( I also slipped in to my stash a bamboo meat carving board complete with a channel for the juices. The kind of thing you see on mortuary slabs).

There are tables laden with every kind of cake tin known to man, stacked and glistening like the turrets of castle. Why, yes, I do need a mini bund-tin as it happens. The tables also offer new things, so new in fact that they were featured on the ABC TV show The New Inventors only last month. : Clongs. click-lock sit up tongs. No more cacky counter tops when tossing carbonara. Angelo has them already, 9" of them at $24.95. I need a pair. Oh, and know someone in my household who needs a teafu

Those are the Basics.

And now comes Angelo's master-stroke: The Beyonds. One turns to be sensible and complete the purchases but brushes against the really magical section of the shop's design and this is the shelves that blend from classy kitchen ware to funky gardening gloves re-usable plastic bags that seem to be made from a Hollywood Starlet's photo ablum and then the complete range of Urban Rituelle toiletries Pomegranite. And one cannot ignore the cases of jewels and trinkets and the blatant, outright frippery.

Well why not? I have the Basics, and it is hardly my fault if to pay for them I am led to the Beyond. And you know what? I'll take trio of onyx photo frames for teacher's presents at xmas, and a few blocks of Margret River made soaps while I'm here. And a handful of no-message greetings cards because the art of old-fashioned letter writing is dying. And look there's my real birthday present, I changed my mind; The Venturi red wine aerator pleaes ...... Time to stop now. But I'll be going home and looking online for anything that may have got away.

Basics and Beyond
293 Fitzgerald Street
North Perth
08 9227 0304

The Angel food cake tin has three prongs evenly spaced around the rim. We don't know why. However it is my mission to find out and the item in and of itself is a thing of beauty. Watch this space. I imagine there will be a lady in the New Forest who will have an idea.

This is an onion-saver. You store the remainder of you onion in it to keep it fresh and your fridge fresh. Angelo tells me the shoplifters of North Perth have had three of these away in one week.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

American Meatloaf Recipe

I know a lady who has come back from holiday in the US and is asking for a meatloaf recipe. Meatloaf is an American standby, almost a by-word for wholesomeness, and who more wholesome than Campbell's to supply a recipe, full to the brim with soup, naturally.

This is from "The Campbell's Treasury of Recipes" and it is, sure enough a trove of ideas, ALL of them with soup; Double Decker Chicken Mould, Pork Chops with Party Hats and Sprig O'Spring Soup. There is also Meat-Shell Pie which I don't really want to visualise.

I have an Australian version edited by Margaret Fulton. I 'm guessing it's from about 1962

Here is my family's favourite from the three versions of meatloaf:

1 can Campbell's condensed cream of tomato soup
approx 850g minced beef (you could do it with a kilo but this is the minum)
1.5 cups of cornflaks lightly crushed
half an onion finely chopped
herbs of your choice, dry or fresh, e.g. parsley or oregano
1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce
1 egg slightly beaten
1 teaspoon of salt

1 2lb loaf tin lined with baking parchement
roasting tin half filled with boiling water
oven at 180 degrees C
serves 6

Combine all ingredients: mix thoroughly (hands are best, you know that, right? Press in to loaf tin and place bain marie (the roasting tin with water) and bake in oven for 1 hour. When it comes out let it sit for 10 minutes before slicing, and tip the juices out too as this is where a lot of the fat will be.

Campbell's gives the following serving suggestion: Serve with additional cream of tomato soup sauce, if desired. Blend about 1/4 cup dirppings with 1 can soup; heat.