All posts by stakamiss

2 easy recipes featuring spring veggies

We’ve bean waiting so long! 

Finally, after weeks of second winters and miscommunications with our groundhog friends, the wait for springtime is over. Of course, along with budding tree buds and longer days, late March and the majority of April are also the most beautiful months for crisp spring vegetables, many of which are both delicious and incredibly sustainable to grow and eat.

Beets, broad beans, cabbage, carrots, mustard greens, onions, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach and swiss chard are only a few examples of the types of vegetables currently growing in Canada in both greenhouses and city gardens. They say that nothing tastes better than spring, and we can’t help but agree!

Green, lean and delicious, here are two easy, restaurant-inspired ways to celebrate the season.

BUT FIRST: A note about sustainable salmon

For the first recipe, I used Presidents Choice sustainably-sourced smoked wild sockeye salmon. Sustainable salmon can be a bit pricey but the long-term benefits are worth the extra money. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, many salmon farming practices have failed to be sustainable.

Wild salmon are needed to sustain everything from orca whales to coastal wolves. Even cedar trees in coastal rainforests depend on salmon because they harvest nutrients from fish remains left by bears. Fishing in bays and outlets with nets requires too many chemicals our over-polluted oceans don’t need. Nets also catch other wild mammals, killing thousands of harbour seals and sea lions yearly.

The answer is closed containment farming, which separates farmed fish from wild fish and the environment, allowing waste, escapes, and spread of disease and sea lice to be controlled.

You can help by making safe and sustainable choices when grocery shopping. Support safe salmon farming and look to the SeaChoice guide or the Marine Stewardship Council logo when shopping.

Salmon Salade Niçoise

This salad is inspired by the classic Salade Niçoise from the south of France and features all the usual suspects—namely potatoes, green beans and anchovies, as well as Canadian smoked salmon and a maple-garlic vinaigrette for a uniquely local twist. As you’re making the vinaigrette, add more olive oil or vinegar to taste. If you like your dressing sweet, feel free to add as much maple syrup as you’d like.

Ingredients

  1. For the vinaigrette:
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons red vinegar
    • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
    • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 2 tbsp maple syrup
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped very finely
    • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  2. For the Salad:
    • 1 small packet Canadian smoked salmon** *
    • 1 packet flat beans (or any other long beans, unfrozen)
    • 1 cup baby potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut in half
    • 3 medium tomatoes (local if possible), sliced thinly
    • 3 organic eggs, hard-cooked and peeled**
    • 1/2 cup olives
    • 2 cups spring lettuce, washed and chopped

How to:

  1. Stir together all ingredients for dressing in a small bowl and then pour half the dressing into a large serving bowl.
  2. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the beans and cook until easily pierced with a fork, about 6-10 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon into the bowl with the vinaigrette.
  3. While the beans are cooking, cook the eggs in a very small simmering saucepan under high heat until desired consistency. It takes 5 minutes of cooking for runny yolks, 6 minutes for soft yolks and 8 minutes for solid yolks, typically. Once cooked, take out and run under cold water. Either slice or add to serving bowl whole.
  4. In the same large pot (beans and potatoes have different cooking times so it’s easier to cook them separately), add the potatoes. Cook just until they are tender through, about 15 minutes. Drain and add to the serving bowl. Mix with spoon until covered in dressing.
  5. Take salmon out of packet and cut as desired. Add to bowl, along with tomatoes, olives and spring lettuce and mix.
  6. Add the rest of the vinaigrette and serve, adding any extra herbs, seafood or spices you’d like!

** If you’re vegan. Feel free to omit the eggs and salmon or substitute with avocado and smoked tofu, or vegan smoked salmon, for a similar feel.

Quick Spring Pickle

This delicious recipe is inspired by eastern-European quick pickles, which many of us grew up with. In pre-refrigerator times, these pickles were a simple way to preserve vegetables or fruits by submerging them in salty or sweet brine flavored with spices and herbs. The acidic environment of the brines stops bacteria from growing and multiplying, essentially making them spoil-proof. Vegetables you can use for this pickle include asparagus, carrots and of course baby spring cucumbers.

Ingredients

  • Carrots or asparagus, cut lengthwise into thick but long slices
  • 8 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 3 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional, or use less)
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • Two large mason jars

How to:

  1. Mix all the dry spices together and separate into the jars, as well as the prepared vegetables.
  2. In a saucepan, bring the water, salt and vinegar to a boil for a couple minutes. Carefully and slowly, pour the hot brine into the jars until totally submerged. Cool completely and place in fridge.
  3. After just an hour, eat! These pickles will continue pickling and stay fresh in the fridge for two months.

Why Valentine’s Day is the absolute worst

Did you have a terrible Valentine’s Day? It’s not uncommon. This special day in the calendar can be especially hard, whether you’re single or in a relationship. It’s hard on the planet too! Our resident blogger Maja Staka examines Valentine’s Day through the lenses of social, economic and environmental sustainability.


Valentine’s Day is a holiday we all know too well. Our earliest memories go back to elementary school, when the holiday was basically an excuse to gorge ourselves on chocolate kisses and scour the drugstore aisles for the coolest cards to give our friends. Confetti was thrown around without a care and arts and crafts revolved around making crooked paper hearts for our mothers that said things like “thank you for feeding me so I don’t die” and “you are the bestest mom.”

At the end of the day, Valentine’s was just free candy and a giant bag of cards to feed our ego. Now, the holiday mostly involves misinterpreted text messages and endless Pandora commercials. The truth is, unless you’re the CEO of a greeting card company, a florist or a cheap motel owner, Valentine’s Day is the absolute worst—for us, and for the environment.

Love letters for landfills

First of all, the evolution of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love has not exemplified ideals of social inclusion. According to the telegraph, the earliest ancestor of the holiday was an ancient roman festival called Lupercalia, a fertility ritual when men would spank young women with dog skin whips to make them fertile.

Once pagan rituals became passé, the holiday graduated from celebrating fertility to recognizing romantic love. In the mid-18th century, the passing of love-notes became the norm. As postal services became more affordable, anonymous letters became easier to deliver, each handmade with lace and paper, addressed to secret lovers and doting wives. Unfortunately, when Hallmark began mass producing cards in 1913, it became easier to send a pre-written message than one written from the heart. Sadly, the way it works today, Valentine’s has basically become a festival of consumer excess and packaging waste.

This Valentine’s Day alone, Americans are expected to spend more than $19 billion. Imagine the kind of good that money could do if it wasn’t spent on roses, chocolates and cards. Once the chocolates are eaten and the fancy jewelry is taken out of its case, their packaging goes straight into the garbage. Greeting cards too—most people glance at them once, scream with delight and then throw them in a dark drawer or waste bin.

Worst of all are roses—which, though innocent looking, bear a thorny secret. The 100 million roses grown just for Valentine’s Day produce nearly 9,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions in a single year. On top of being flown in from warmer climes, roses are so delicate that they have to shipped around in temperature controlled trucks, all of which wastes precious energy and contributes to the emissions that speed climate change and slowly destroy natural habitats.

Relationships are made, not marketed

Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day also perpetuates unhealthy gender dynamics and distorts our understanding of love. Weeks of marketing reinforce traditional, heteronormative expectations for how men and women should express their romantic feelings (whether those feelings are present or not). Men are pressured to buy gifts for their partners lest they appear cheap. Women are expected to reward their man for taking them to dinner and buying them shiny baubles. Unfortunately, the focus on material exchange suggests that love can be bought or sold; that the more money you spend on someone, the more you love them. These expectations disempower women and exploit both sides of the relationship.

Sustainable, healthy relationships are built on completely different ideals. A person must be willing to love their partner unconditionally and be prepared to learn from their relationship and shared experiences. You cannot buy love, you have to nurture it. True love doesn’t need to be evidenced by a flashy display of wealth.  Simply put, if someone has to buy you a box of chocolates to prove their love is real—it’s not real.

That said. I would never say no to a box of fair trade, organic chocolates.

About the author

Maja Staka is a Campus Sustainability Volunteer with the Office of Sustainability. She began blogging in high school and has been actively pursuing ways to continue writing ever since. Currently, she is both a graduate student at the University of Alberta and a part time French translator.

Photo credit: William Foval on Flickr.

6 reasons to eat seasonally in university

Look, we get it. You’re hungry, you don’t feel like cooking and between studying for finals and trying to actually hang out with other humans, you just can’t find the time to eat healthy food, much less cook a healthy meal.  In fact, you probably haven’t touched a vegetable since the beginning of October and by now your middle name just might be Ramen. And what is seasonal eating anyway? Is it a fad diet? A rich soccer mom diet? Something your grandparents did because they had no other choice! No, no and yes!

Before the food industry exploded and we began chartering tomatoes from Mexico to Alberta, people survived on meat, wheat products and whatever vegetables still grew in their gardens, as well as the pickled and canned versions of these foods like pickles and jams. People ate what was accessible based on their surroundings, not always what they wanted.

Seasonal whole foods vs. processed foods

Just because technology has made it possible to eat guacamole in December doesn’t mean it’s good for our bodies. In fact, our bodies may have been revolting against this huge change in our diet for decades in the form of intolerances and allergies. According to the Daily Mail, a study done by Dr. Rob Lilywhite of the University of Warwick has shown that the relative prevalanceof food intolerances in the west could be tied to eating more highly processed foods, rather than to an intolerance of wheat or gluten.

“The evidence seems to suggest the problems stem from the amount of additives used in the processed foods,” he said. “The natural benefits from food starts to disappear.”

While the evidence is still emerging, he suggests that when “you destroy the natural structure, you destroy the natural health benefits in the raw food.”

Six more reasons to eat seasonal

This doesn’t mean that you have to give up chips and guac completely and go crazy on the pickles, but incorporating as many seasonal and fresh foods into your diet as possible now could help you avoid health problems later in life—and help you get the nourishment you need to think properly for that exam tomorrow. Here are 6 reasons to eat seasonally in university.

  1. You will save money  

Believe it or not, eating seasonally isn’t as costly as you might think. Seasonal eating usually equates to local eating, which supports farmland, kindles the local economy and builds community. When food is local, it doesn’t have to be flown in from oversees and is usually picked when ripe. This means the apples you buy at the farmers market or grocery store are easier to harvest and sell than the grapes flown in from California.

It all makes local fruit cheaper by the kilogram. Of course, not all seasonal food will cost less. Go with what’s affordable and more abundant each year. Cheaper food = more money for books and burritos, which is always a good thing.

  1. It’s better for you

Just listen to grandma, ok? Eat your fruits and vegetables! If you’re in Western Canada, eat your apples, pears, cranberries, beets, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, cauliflower, celery root, chard, collards, fennel, garlic, leeks, parsnips, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes and wild mushrooms. These are some of the foods that are at their height of freshness in November.

According to the Chicago Tribute, a study from the University of California shows that “vegetables can lost 15 to 55 per cent of vitamin C, for instance, within a week after harvest.” Therefore, the longer the transport time from farm to table, the more nutritional value a food item loses. Worried about catching a cold? Grab some local bell peppers or Brussels sprouts!

  1. Seasonal food tastes better

Think about juicy, firetruck red tomatoes in July. Now think about tomatoes in December. Could you ever really compare the two? Foods that aren’t in season arrive at the grocery store either still green or half-ripe, and they never quite ripen right at home—leaving you with boring flavors and textures. Food that’s picked when ripe and ready to eat, or immediately pickled or canned is brighter in flavor. You might want to eat peaches badly, but October plums are just as delicious and will almost always be juicier.

  1. Finding and eating seasonal foods is easy

First of all, there’s a farmers market held in the Student’s Union Building every two weeks, which makes sustainable, seasonal shopping a breeze whether you have a break between classes or just want to buy some produce in your pyjamas. The farmers market is also a great way to support local farmers and business people while hanging out with your friends.

To spot seasonal foods at the grocery store, simply look to the very front of the produce section where these foods are clearly marked. Foods that aren’t in season are usually hidden or off to the side.

Recipe planning also becomes a breeze because you’re not faced with so much variety when eating seasonally, which for some of us is a really great thing. Those beets on sale? Those would make a great salad with some goat cheese and almonds!

  1. Seasonal is more interesting

They say variety is the spice of life and this is true for food as well. Once you start eating seasonally, you get introduced to a myriad of fruits, vegetables and protein sources you wouldn’t otherwise have eaten. Did you even know kale had more than one variety? Or that there are eight types of squash typically sold in Canadian supermarkets? Expand your gastronomical horizons and go for that glazed carrot recipe with toasted cumin seeds, or roast some pears with maple syrup and top with vanilla ice cream. Who knows, by trying new and local foods, you might even stumble upon a new favorite!

Finally, and most importantly…

6. Seasonal eating is sustainable

When you buy local produce or Canadian made food products, especially on university grounds, you are helping the environment and creating new dialogues about sustainable eating. When food is mass produced and transported to us, mass amounts of greenhouse gasses are produced which enter the atmosphere and create air and water pollution. When food doesn’t have to take so long of a trip from farm to plate, less energy is needed and more energy is conserved in the food. Learning how to eat sustainably (and seasonably) in university will contribute to your sustainable future and make you a better earthling in the long run.

About the author

Maja Staka is a Campus Sustainability Volunteer with the Office of Sustainability. She began blogging in high school and has been actively pursuing ways to continue writing ever since. Currently, she is both a graduate student at the University of Alberta and a part time French translator. She loves cats, warm carbohydrates and listening to rap on her way to the farmers market.

Photo by Larry on Flickr