Red Fife Pancakes

We are always happy to hear how other people are using Ontario grains in every day meals cooked at home.

One of the members of Evelyn’s Crackers’ community submitted this recipe for making pancakes using Red Fife Whole Wheat flour farmed from John and Patricia Hastings of CIPM Farms in Medoc, Ontario:

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 cups of milk
1 cup red fife whole wheat flour
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon (more if you like)
2 eggs lightly beaten
1/4 cup melted butter

Blend the oats and milk, let stand for five minutes. Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt. Add the dry ingredients, eggs and butter to at mixture and stir until just combined.

Heat pan (cast-iron preferably) on medium low heat; lightly coat with a neutral oil and pour batter and proceed as expected.

Most weeks the Red Fife whole wheat can be pre-ordered via email (evelynscrackers@gmail.com) and picked up at Evelyn’s Crackers table at all of our farmers marketlocations.

>How Far Will You Go for a Fresh Egg?

Heritage Grains. Why They Are Worth it.

copyright Edmund Rek/rekfotos.com

Unhulled Turkish bulgar wheat at the Slow Food Conference in Turin, Italy. One of the first cultivated wheats.

Heritage grains may be the final cog in the wheel of the good food and sustainable farming movements. These special grains were bountiful leading up to the 1900’s and vital to westward settlements in North America. They were grown for their adaptability, nutritional value, animal feed and fermented for spirits.

By the 1950’s the population transitioned from rural to urban communities, therefore changing the direction of food and farming. At the same time, micro-food communities were pushed aside by large agri-businesses and huge food chains monopolized hybridized wheat and limited the choices for the increasing number of the suburban consumers.

Striving for the quick and convenient, food became overly processed and shelf-life won out over nutrition. Slowly these older varieties of grains, and much of the food our grandparents and great grandparents ate, became harder and harder to find.

In the past 10-15 years, however, a new generation of farmers and advocates are finding ways to revitalize our food choices. Similar to the environmental movement of the 1970s, smart, dedicated individuals such as Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin offering insights for consumers and leading them away from foods grown on industrial farms. Huge online campaigns are forming (Top 20 local food advocates on Twitter link) where conscience eaters are demanding nutrient dense food grown by sustainable farms.

As a result, it is becoming easier to understand the cost of industrial farming. Fruits and vegetables growers who use pesticides, fungicides and herbicides disturb the natural habitat of bees and contaminate of ground water. Documentaries are exposing poor animal husbandry that result in unappetizing caged chickens and sick feedlot cattle. What’s harder to see is is how modern wheat was bred to fit the needs of large scale farming.

Heritage grains can offer everything that industrialized wheat cannot.

Our wholegrain flour is really a 100% whole grain FLOUR. Want to know more? Kall the kaptain.

1. Whole Grain Nutrition. The outer layer of the grain contain most of the nutrients and when freshly milled it has a wonderful taste and texture. (Enriched white flours are an indication that the good stuff has been removed.)

2. Sustainability. These older varieties adapt to their growing conditions. Seeds don’t have to be purchased from outside the farm they can be planted each year collected after harvest. Hybridized grains tend to lose vitality with a shorter life-cycle. Heritage grains are an asset that stays on the farm, year after year.

3. Diversity. Food mono-cultures dominated by a single seed species can inhibit long-term agricultural diversity. Growing buckwheat, rye, barley, durum and spelt can offer so much more than a single crop of dwarfed wheat. The soil benefits greatly with crop rotation and seed variety. Nutrients remain in the soil, which lends itself to organic farming and offer more variety in our diets.

Heritage grains connect us to a time were micro food communities were the only option, where you knew the person who grew your food, or you grew it yourself. We have the unique benefit of living in modern cities with modern conveniences that can offer connections to these special grains through a new breed of committed farmers. CIPM and K2Mill are our main grain suppliers. Look for heritage grains at farmers markets, through subscriptions to Community Supported Agriculture, food artisans and at farm-gate sales. Currently, we are using buckwheat, rye, durum, red fife wheat and spelt all grown and milled in Ontario.

(We will be creating a page to post your favorite whole grain recipes soon.)

Kneading Conference East 2013: Crackers, Wood-fired Ovens & Tandoor Baking. (Recipes)

All of the baking at the conference was done in wood-fired ovens, which needed to be kept warm all night for the next days bake.

All of the baking at the conference was done in wood-fired ovens, which needed to be kept warm all night for the next days bake. (all photos copyrighted and credited to: Edmund Rek/rekfotos.com)

Evelyn’s Crackers participated in the Kneading Conference again this year. Co-teaching three workshops with Naomi Duguid: Crackers, Tandoor Baking and Grain Tasting was like a homecoming seeing many of the familiar faces of fellow lecturers and attendees. The conference draws some of the best talent in bread baking, oven building and anything related to dough or grains (even rice this year) making the event one not to miss.

We owe thanks a group of Skowhegan residents who were motivated to address wheat production as an important cornerstone of a growing local food movement. The first Kneading Conference was held in July of 2007 in the heart of Somerset County,

“where wheat production fed over 100,000 people annually until the mid-1800′s. Reviving wheat varieties that succeed in Maine’s climate is not only a realistic goal, but a critical one in light of rising transportation costs and the recognition that food security must rely on local farms. By bringing together the diverse stakeholders who collectively can rebuild lost infrastructure and create demand for local and regional grain systems – farmers, millers, bakers, chefs, wheat researchers – on-the-ground plans take shape. In Maine, the Kneading Conference has been the impetus for start-ups amongst a growing cluster of grain related businesses.” http://kneadingconference.com/

Multiple workshops were going on simultaneously and the images below capture only a fraction of the offering from the Kneading Conference. The open venue is airy and relaxed. One can mingle from one class to another and serves as a model for the Kneading Conference West coming up in September near Seattle, Washington and other agricultural areas interested in reviving local farming heritage.

A view of our outdoor workshop with our own copper covered hearth in the background.

A view of our outdoor workshop with our own copper covered hearth in the background.

The rolling pins of choice for the cracker class are without handles offer a better feel for the dough and become an extension of the your hands.

The rolling pins are without handles for offer a better feel for the dough become an extension of the your hands.

Stamping the rye crackers with Middle Eastern bread stamps before being baked in the wood-fired oven.

Stamping the rye crackers with Middle Eastern bread stamps before being baked in the wood-fired oven.

A beautiful rustic rye cracker stamped by wooden handled bread stamps from the Middle East.

A beautiful rustic rye cracker stamped by wooden handled bread stamps from the Middle East.

Sour dough bagels waiting to be baked for a few minutes before being flipped.

Bagels going into the oven.  They had to be turned on their backs and baked for a few minutes on the wooden board as not to stick to the "floor" of the oven.

Bagels going into the oven. They had to be turned on their backs and baked for a few minutes on the wooden board as not to stick to the “floor” of the oven.

The bagel workshop was full of history and techniques taught by Jeffrey Hamelman.  Truly amazing to watch him bake in the wood-fired oven and learning the adjustments he had to make from a traditional oven. This photo shows a few that stayed in a little too long, but look great to me.

As varied and versatile as the workshop program was, so were the types of ovens at the fairgrounds for the bakers to use. This one was placed on cinder blocks vs. a trailer.

As varied and versatile as the workshop program was, so were the types of ovens at the fairgrounds for the bakers to use. This one was placed on cinder blocks, most were on movable trailers.

Tandoor baking class.

Tandoor baking class with Naomi Duguid.

Stretching the dough before baking it in the Tandoor.

Stretching the dough before baking it in the Tandoor.

Carefully adding the dough to the sides of the tandoor oven.

Carefully adding the dough to the sides of the tandoor oven.

A piece of naan bread ready to come out of the Tandoor oven.  The long steel tools hold the bread in place and pull it from the oven sides at the same time.

A piece of naan bread ready to come out of the Tandoor oven. The long steel tools hold the bread in place and pull it from the oven sides at the same time.

Fresh from the Tandoor.

Fresh from the Tandoor.

Rye bread dough ready to be shaped.

Barak Olins has shaped his rye dough that will be baked in the copper wood oven.

Barak Olins has shaped his rye dough that will be baked in the copper covered wood oven.

Rye bread just out of the wood-fired oven.

Rye bread just out of the wood-fired oven.

The most important part of a wood-fired oven.  The door.

The most important part of a wood-fired oven. The door.

From Porridge to Polenta: cooked cereal grains made easy

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Cooked cereal grains have been a staple throughout civilization and “provide more food energy worldwide than any other crop.” As whole grains, they provide more vitamins, minerals and protein than their refined counterparts. (After removal of the bran and germ where mostly carbohydrates are left behind.) Ancient farming communities from areas in and around Egypt and Iraq first domesticated emmeri wheat, einkorn wheat and barley.

Beyond west Asia there are several important staple cereal grains grown worldwide: maize (Americas, Africa), rice (tropical, temperate regions), sorghum (Asia, Africa), millet (Asia, Africa), oats (worldwide), rye (colder climates), fonio (Africa), buckwheat Europe, Asia), quinoa (Andes).

Closer to home, our three favorite cereals are congee, museli (hot or cold) and polenta.

Congee is eaten all over eastern Asia, mostly for breakfast, or a late supper. A little rice and a lot if water (about 1:10 ratio) are cooked together to a porridge consistency. It’s personality is in the accompaniments: grilled pork, egg, chili, scallions, cilantro, you name it! It’s a blank canvas of any flavor inspiration.

Birchemuesli, or muesli, is a popular Swiss German breakfast cereal and late night snack. Renouned for being healthy it originally was prepared for recoverying hospital patients. Full of oat flakes (sometimes wheat, or rye), seeds, nuts and fruit it is often soaked ahead of time in water, cream or yogurt. We have been making our own version of “muse-li” and eat it as a hot cereal. A great way to start the day as the chill of winter is upon us. (About 1:4 cereal to water; cooked until thickens and grains are tender; serve with sheep’s yogurt, cinnamon (copious amounts), our granola and maple syrup).

Polenta: one of the three holy “P’s” behind pizza and pasta is not always considered a cereal. More often, this creamy, starchy, once Roman staple is cooked with seasoned stock, cream, milk, or water and paired with sauces, meats and vegetables. You can add less liquid and slice and grill the polenta after it cools and becomes firm. We use organic stone ground corn from Stoddarts Farm that has both coarse and fine grain mixed in (and it actually smells like corn!). The liquid base is 1/2 stock and 1/2 milk with bay leaf, salt and touch of cayenne pepper, plenty of garlic cooked in butter and a lot of grated cheese stirred in at the end. (I mentioned stir.) The best polenta is stirred constantly throughout cooking to prevent scorching and splatter as it thickens. (1:5 ratio cornmeal to liquid for creamy; 1:4 for firm; cook until thickens and the grains are tender; Buckwheat can be substituted or added with the cornmeal.)

Many whole cereal grains are available to us can easily be added to our diet. Freshly milled ones have a obvious benefits of more flavor and can be healthier for you. Try and buy from the source. A local farming community (or farmers market) is a great place to look. Although often more variety, keep in mind store bought ones will have gone through a distributor and may have been warehoused for some time.

>I Think I Can

(http://www.lafromagerie.ca/ photo credit)

For over a year we have been dropping off samples and trying to get our crackers in one of the finest cheese shops on College. As a constant reminder, we walk by the store several times a week, often stopping for a wedge of cheese, baguette or croissant.

One day out for a walk with Evelyn, it started to rain. The sudden storm came from nowhere and started to flood the street in a matter of minutes. We were caught in it, big time! Running from one store front to another, trying to find shelter anywhere from the unexpected shower. There we were several blocks from home, each with a NOW magazine over our heads (a very important skill taught to me by my father) when…eureka! There is was, La Fromagerie and their beautiful wooden park bench and dark blue awning. There we sat, wringing out our make-shift umbrellas and watching the other pedestrians and bikers go by who were much less fortunate.

After that day I felt a little more secure knowing that close by there is a great little cheese shop offering some of the finest cheeses from Europe, Quebec and Ontario. Just close enough to for a guy and his little girl to share a moment in a rain storm, or for anyone to share a moment with a piece of cheese, and now with Evelyn’s Crackers.

>Immerse Through Crackers

>
We rely on our friends and family for many things and as new small business owners, sometimes we cross the line. Like the time our daughter, 2 at the time, ran around the Brick Works farmers market with a t-shirt that read: “Evelyn’s Crackers, we put the crack in crackers.

(photo (c)2008 Edmund Rek)

Quickly becoming infamous with the last minute call for baby-sitting mostly by friends, as our family are in the States, every once and while someone will come to the kitchen and help with cracker production, as did Naomi:

On Tuesday afternoon I did a short shift with Dawnthebaker at the Incubator Kitchen making crackers for Evelyn’s Crackers (named after fabulous Evelyn, Dawn and Ed’s three=year=old daughter). The crackers are hand-made, truly made by hand. The dough is mixed by machines, then divided into pieces which are hand-shaped, then run, piece by piece, through a sheeter, a machine like a pasta-maker that squeezes it flat. Each sheet of dough on its individual piece of parchment paper is stacked on the last and then when the stack is high, it’s put aside to chill while the rest of the dough is flattened. At this stage we’re not nearly halfway in the hand-work.

The chilled sheets come back out and then once again, one by one, are put carefully through the sheeter, now set to a thinner setting. They double in area (and fragility too, of course). Once again, after all the sheets in the stack have been run through the sheeter and then restacked, the stack gets set aside in the cooler while the remaining stacks are run through.

Then it’s time for the final pre-baking hand-work: Sheet by sheet the crackers are cut. You take the pizza-cutter-like roller and run it in straight lines down the dough, trying to space them evenly and keep them straight. For the cheese crackers that we were making there were six or seven lines vertically and about 11 horizontally per baking sheet of dough. No wonder Dawn feels her wrists get tired! I felt it more in my back, because the work is assymetrical, when you bend sideways over the sheet to do the cross-wise cuts.

After each sheet is cut into crackers, it is pulled over onto the stack of already sliced dough. Once the stack is tall, it is covered with plastic, tightly sealed, and frozen. The baking will take place next day or sometime in the next week. And baking too means handling the crackers sheet by sheet, putting them into the oven, and then taking them out and leaving them on a rack to cool and crisp up.

Now that all sounds long, doesn’t it? And yet it’s just a description, with no details, really.

Dawn does all this physical labour with grace and strength and skill. Sometimes Ed is there working with her, or a less-skilled sidekick like me, but most often she’s there on her own, either making and shaping crackers, or else baking.

When we were there together, she could get crackers baked while I shaped (and she was often over helping with the shaping process in between baking chores). The lovely scent of her Barley Noir crackers perfumed the space as we worked, and the spicy Dal Crackers too added their aroma when they were baked.

The thing about the cracker production, the thing that is valuable (apart from the fact that they are made from local and organic ingredients, and that they taste wonderful and are a treat to eat), is the hand-made-ness. It creates an entirely different cracker population. They are NOT all the same. For though each batch is made from one dough, the fact that they are rolled out and cut by hand, sheet by sheet, cut by cut, means that the crackers each have a personality and clear identity. There’s kind of a “every snowflake is unique” quality to them.

So while the goal of industrial production and chain restaurants is complete consistency and uniformity, the goal of hand-crafted anything, from crackers, to clothing, to furmiture, to home-cooking, is individual distinctiveness within a recognisable form. That’s why we love home-made food. And that’s what we lose if we buy “food” that has been extruded and cut and shaped by highly industrial processes.

People say, but this is elitist, this emphasis on the hand-crafted; processed food is cheaper. But it’s not. Home-made food, each of us starting with basic ingredients at home, is the least expensive and best. Next in line is food made by someone we know, made with care and attention. And as we tried to emphasise in our book HomeBaking, let’s not, as home cooks, start to think that our food should look like food that is made by machine, all “perfect” and predictable. Let’s treasure the unpredictable, the individual, the idiosyncratic.

(written by Naomi Duguid, cookbook author and one of the best reasons to live in Toronto/her blog/her website)

>The Lamb That Got Away (Almost)

>;Of the innumerable number of dinner parties that happen throughout the city, I took part in a remarkable one.

A dozen people were brought together this particular evening to share in the bounty of local food in a newly renovated kitchen.

Prior to the renovation, one could easily tell the young couple hosting the dinner were food groupies by their big red leather sofa in the kitchen. However, a bone of contention with the wife, was the big red sofa in the kitchen.

So, how does one design a kitchen around a large sofa in the kitchen?

By replacing it with bar stools and a seven foot granite-top island.

Since Big Red is gone the husband of has been seen circling the new stone monolith, as if breaking in a new pair of shoes, not really sure what to do; saying things like: “No more snacking and napping in the kitchen, or you can’t flop onto a bar stool!”

A month in, he is getting used it and almost admitting to liking the extra large eating surface. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

As with most home renovations it went past due and the couple suffered almost two months without cooking in their own kitchen. Finally, the day came when move back in and they didn’t waste anytime getting back into the swing of things..

Within an hour after the contractor packed up his tools, guests were arriving for their first dinner party. The kitchen tours we met with cheers over anti-slamming drawers, a water spigot over the stove-top (tested curiously by a guest without out a pot underneath) and two very special ovens. But, the star of the evening was the local grass-fed leg of lamb from Twin Creeks Organic Farm.

Not surprisingly, there was a lot to do. Tasks were handed out as guests arrived: peel potatoes, wash the lettuce and care for the lamb.

When I arrived the potatoes were being sliced for an au gratin, drinks were being poured and the lamb was locked in the oven. No kidding.

One of the two ovens had a locking feature. As more people arrived, different button combinations were pressed trying to fix it.

After some Niagara prosciutto, more guests, and more wine, out came the oven’s users manual. Reading out various steps to try and pulling and jiggling the handle, nothing worked.

Finally, a decision was made to go old school and flip a fuses in the basement. We continued stirring and chopping as the lights went: off-on, off-on and off-on again.

At last, the oven reset itself, the door unlocked and the prize was put into the second oven.

The dinner preparations progressed fabulously: the mustard herb-crusted lamb was toasted under the infrared broiler; the potatoes were topped with extra reggiano cheese and also browned; a salad dressing was made and tossed with tender greens and the Empire apple tart was in a holding pattern waiting to go into the less greedy oven.

At last, dinner’s ready! Let’s eat!

And we did, with high accomplished spirits amidst the myriad of paint cans and stacks of drywall.

It was truly a fabulous meal. Meeting new people and coming together united in appreciation for local food and the environment to prepare it in, with or without a big red sofa and a locking oven.

>Here It Begins…

>;Our first blog.

What is it going to be about?

Well, we are both chefs from very different backgrounds. Some would say quite talented. Together our varied styles compliment each other and cover most food regions and kitchen requests.

We both are very involved in the local food movement and can be a bit preachy on how Organic Farmers’ markets are the way to go.

Even still, there is a potential for a he-said/she-said back and forth about food cooking and techniques, who’s ego will survive?

Also, as new parents of a 21 month old baby daughter, you guessed it, Evelyn, so, the whole baby thing can also fill up pages of rants and endless goings on.

And to make it even better, we are new parents of a cracker business, of the same name.

There you have it. The recipe of possible topics for our new bouncing baby blog.