December 20, 2010

the cold hard facts of eating locally

Fog, snow, ice. A recipe for a weekend inside of baking, oysters and wine...and reading. Although the flour from my pizza dough was Québecois, the olive oil is from Palestine, the wine, Chablis, and the anchovies, Morocco, oysters... PEI. So although eating locally in Québec is possible, when not an absolute purist, an imported wine is not a sin. La Via Campesina by Annette Aurélie Desmarais, a teacher at the University of Regina, has written a book about a peasant movement which now has 148 member organizations from 69 countries, including Québec's Union Paysanne, addresses in fact what local really means.

'La Via Campesina promotes a model of peasant or family-farm agriculture based on sustainable production with local resources and in harmony with local culture and traditions. Peasants and farmers rely on a long experience with their locallyavailable resources. We are capable of producing the optimal quantity and quality of food with few external inputs. Our production is mainly for family consumption and domestic markets.' Via Campesina website.

Anyone interested in eating from local farms is eventually going to realize how close Monsanto or Dupont really are, how restraining and sometimes corrupt government regulations really are, and how fragile the diversity of what we eat still is and probably will continue to be as long as these corporations continue to exploit local laws, ruin local peasants, as they forcefully create systems of dependency. Desmarais' book is a great read for the end the year, uplifting and dedicated, as we all should be. Happy New Year.

December 5, 2010

the world of the great storytelling miller Sylvain Lafortune

Snow everywhere. 4.30 pm and the sun has already disappeared. We stood in front of a huge square silo, a sole lonely light illuminating a part of its belly and part of a sign, Le Moulin Bleu. To the right the boutique is as dark as Jonah must have experienced a long time ago. We walk up to the door; Saturdays they close at noon. Next time. Turning around I see a man walking towards us, in overalls, a torn comfy looking sweater, wild salt and pepper hair and a big bushy mustache. Holy shit, it is George Brassens! Without hesitation he opens the shop telling us that exceptions are what keeps us young.

He excuses himself for his dusty, ragged appearance. The miller, owner Sylvain Lafortune asks us if we have ever visited a mill before. Nope. He turns and off we walk into something more complex than I expected from flour.

Sylvain is one of those very few animated, talkative individuals you meet who are a pleasure to listen to, like Brassens. Only here in the cold humid belly of the mill, which is built above the Saint Esprit river, we were given a history of milling in the world, a history of Lanaudière region, his genealogy and the complex process of making stone ground artisanal buckwheat, not to mention the history of near extinction of some South American wood (Guayacan?) and Hydro Québec. The mill was built around 1860. The mill is not blue but in fact red (there are 4 or 5 theories for that one). The process of séchage, dépoussiérage, cribblage, épièrage, the trillage of size, machine after machine in something as simple as flour, the storing and the series of tubes going just about everywhere makes for something wonderful. This huge complex processing tonnes of buckwheat to be ground by two stones more ancient than any of us or our memories. The mill has been indirectly in the family (St-André, Henri, Lafortune) passed on from the woman`s side since it's inception except for a brief problem with the Seigneur de St-Roch in what was then the Fief of Bailleul, but one has to relive it through the great storytelling miller.

Proud of his craft, deeply rooted in the region of Lanaudière along this tiny river, Sylvain tells us that buckwheat came as a response of massive industry takeovers of the flour industry, and with this love and respect of a more traditional approach and perseverance we are given the gift of buckwheat, which is neither grass nor a cereal but a plant first cultivated around 6000 years ago.....

185g buckwheat flour
185g whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 tbs brown sugar
2 tea baking soda
1 1/3 cup milk approx.
2 eggs
4 tbs of clarified butter for cooking the pancakes

mix all ingredients except for the butter. Let rise for 5 minutes. Cook in the clarified butter like any other pancake. Serve with maple syrup and butter.