Tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant.

tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant

If you like ratatouille, I think you’ll be into this. It’s got all that deep tomato flavour, but with a touch of smoke and a bit more texture, thanks to the tempeh, and the flavours are sweet and sour and spicy all at once. It also comes together in about half an hour, so it is in many ways a perfect cloudy summer day dish, nourishing and flavourful but not a huge pain in the ass to pull together on a weeknight.

Tempeh is a fermented soy product that originated in Indonesia, where it’s very popular in Bali – the soybeans are bound together by a mold that sort of resembles the white rind on a wheel of brie. It’s a living food that’s very high in protein and fibre, and it’s got a mild flavour and firm texture that has allowed me to pass it off as chicken nuggets to some of our less discerning family members. Tempeh is often found near the tofu in the market; if you can’t find it, you can use extra firm tofu.

If you’re in Vancouver, check out Tempea Foods tempeh, which is made locally and often available at the Vancouver Farmer’s Markets. I am in love with this product (I don’t get paid to say that, so it’s earnest).

For the recipe that follows, if you’re not able to find tamarind paste, use cooking molasses. If you’re not able to find lime leaves, use the zest and juice of an additional lime. Look for fresh lime leaves in Asian grocery stores or in the Asian ingredients section of your market’s produce section; you can often find dried or frozen lime leaves in Asian markets as well.

An aside: Why The Name ‘Kaffir Lime’ Is Wildly Offensive To Many.

IMG_6540Tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant

(Makes four servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 6 garlic gloves
  • 1″ (2.5 cm) piece ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. sambal oelek
  • 1 tbsp. tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 lime leaf
  • Zest and juice one one lime
  • 7 oz. (200 g) block tempeh, cut into inch-wide squares
  • 1/2 lb. (225 g) Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise and cut into inch-wide pieces
  • 1 1/2 lbs. (680 g)  tomatoes, quartered lengthwise and then widthwise into 8 pieces
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted cashews
  • Finely chopped scallions, for garnish

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass, and cook – stirring occasionally – until browned and slightly charred in places, about three minutes. Pour this mixture into a blender.

To the blender, add brown sugar, sambal oelek, tamarind paste or molasses, fish sauce, ground turmeric, lime leaf (if using), and lime zest and juice. Blend until pureed. Set aside.

Add the pan back to medium-high heat and add another tablespoon of oil.

Cook the tempeh for about two minutes per side, until browned and charred in places. Remove tempeh to a plate lined with paper towel.

Add the final tablespoon of oil to the pan. Cook the eggplant in a manner similar to the tempeh – until browned and charred in bits. Another two minutes.

Add the tomatoes to the pan, and add the tempeh back. Reduce heat to medium. Add salt and pepper. Stir the mixture together and cook – stirring occasionally – until the tomatoes and eggplant have expressed most of their liquid and the sauce has thickened, another 10 to 12 minutes. The mixture should resemble a chunky tomato sauce.

Stir cashews into the pan, and then sprinkle with scallions. Serve over rice.

 

 

Rhubarb sauce with rosemary.

My parents have always had a rhubarb plant in the backyard; I think the plant originated with my grandparents, but I can’t be sure. I like the idea that it might have, but it could just as easily have come from Art Knapp’s Plantland, a nursery we’d sometimes go to where you could ride in golf carts to pick up infant cherry trees and the stubby shrubs that divided every suburban home from the one beside it.

We always had rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb and dumplings, and, if we were lucky, rhubarb sauce, which was best over vanilla ice cream, but also worked pretty well as a pancake topping.

I don’t know why we had rhubarb; it’s not an easy fruit to feed to kids, and yet I recall eating it from the beginning, or as close to the beginning as I’m able to remember. It’s sour and stringy, and some years are worse than others, but every spring it turned up in my mom’s pots and pie plates, sweetened with white sugar and apples, and sometimes with strawberries. It didn’t matter if the rhubarb wasn’t good that year – Mom just added more sugar. Maybe that’s what I saw in it?

There’s less rhubarb in my life now, as I can’t just pop into the back yard and pull a few stalks out of the garden as I need them, though I did scope out my mother-in-law’s plant on the weekend with moochy intent – it wasn’t ready. Now if I want rhubarb, I need to pay for it. Fortunately, they had it at the farmer’s market this past weekend. I didn’t buy quite enough for pie or cobbler or crisp, but I did grab enough to stew into sauce; this one is a little sweet, a little savoury, and great with rich, fatty Greek yogurt and a few flecks of black pepper and bee pollen, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The rosemary is what makes this; a little goes a long way, and the end result tastes the way spring feels, especially those first few warm rays of morning sunlight through your kitchen window after it’s rained for weeks and weeks.

Rhubarb sauce

(Makes about 2 cups.)

  • 1 lb. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1/2 cup honey*
  • 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

In a covered pot over medium-low heat, simmer rhubarb and honey for ten minutes, or until rhubarb has expelled most of its liquid.

Remove lid, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until sauce has thickened to the consistency you desire; I like a slightly chunky sauce.

Add rosemary and pepper, and simmer for a minute or two, and then spoon it into a jar and use as needed. Keeps for about a week in the fridge; if you end up making extra, it’s wonderful baked into muffins instead of applesauce.

*You may have to sweeten this to taste, depending on the rhubarb you get. Taste as you go, but keep in mind you may need up to 2/3 cup of sweetener per pound of rhubarb and this will vary from plant to plant and year to year. 

 

Maggi meatball soup.

Maggi meatball soup started out as “groentesoep met balletjes,” or Dutch vegetable soup with meatballs, which I guess it still kind of is? It kind of is. Maggi, the shorthand name for Maggi-Würze, is a sweet, soy-based seasoning sauce Dutch people (and not just Nick) use in abundance, whether a dish needs it or not. It’s actually a rather international thing – Maggi sauce spans continents, and is used everywhere from the Netherlands to the Philippines, from Germany to Pakistan. It’s sweet, very salty, and keeps forever without needing to be refrigerated, and it’s great for seasoning meatballs.

This soup is somewhere between Italian Wedding and plain old chicken soup, with soft, tender meatballs, noodles and veggies in a clear chicken broth. If you are like my mother-in-law, you would serve this with soft, buttered buns and thin slices of deli ham and Gouda; if you are like me, you will retrieve half a loaf of grocery store garlic bread from the depths of your freezer and then burn it under your broiler while you eat half a bag of pre-dinner chips and lose 15 minutes Googling Maggi’s origin story. If you are like my four-year-old, you will drown three handfuls of goldfish crackers in the broth and claim it is too hot to eat long after your small bowl of soup has gone cold.

Anyway, this is good with whatever you want to serve it with, but it’s best with soft white bread in some fashion.

IMG_1872Maggi meatball soup

Meatballs:

  • 1/2 lb. extra lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. Maggi seasoning sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Soup:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and then chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, quartered lengthwise and then chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 2 tsp. yellow curry powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fine egg noodles
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped

In a large bowl and using your hands, mush together meatball ingredients until well mixed. Form meatballs about half an inch (1.25 cm) in diameter; you should end up with about 40. Set these aside.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, add oil, carrots, celery, shallot, and garlic, and cook for about two minutes, until colours have brightened and everything’s coated in oil. Add salt, curry powder, and the bay leaf, and cook for another minute or two, until the curry is fragrant and starting to stick a little bit to the bottom of the pot. Add stock.

Bring the pot of soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Drop the meatballs into the pot, stirring gently, and let these simmer for 10 minutes.

Add egg noodles,. and cook for another five minutes or until noodles are al denté.

Taste the soup. Adjust salt to taste. Add lemon juice, and parsley, remove the bay leaf, and then serve.

The cheap person’s guide to the farmers market.

I’ve given a couple of talks lately about farmers markets and how to shop for local, organic produce on a budget – here’s the gist of it, or (more realistically) the bulk of it, since I tend to wander off on tangents and forget myself and my main points midway through every presentation.

From June to part-way through October, there’s a farmers market a short walk from my building, conveniently beside two playgrounds, and they have coffee. Last year, after the market’s pilot year but before its second, my neighbours and I in Mount Pleasant wrote letters to the Vancouver Farmers Market and the city asking to have it return, emphasizing its value. The market came back, and it will come back for a third year this spring.

Living in a (sometimes unfriendly) city means that we don’t always engage with our community or interact with our neighbours in positive, mutually gratifying ways: people are annoying and stinky and inconvenient because we’re all, often, annoying and stinky and inconvenient to each other. We’re not forced to see or hear each other, because cities are busy and people are anonymous and everyone’s just trying to get going or get home.

The benefit of city living, for me, is that my world is simultaneously very big and very small. I have everything I need, but I never have to leave my neighbourhood. The farmers market, then, is less about an errand and more community interaction.

I still buy some of my food, mostly produce, at the farmers market.

This may seem counterintuitive, or at the very least … off-brand? But I think it’s important for people to know that even if you’re on a budget, you can still go to your local farmers market.

Here’s how.

Be ruthless, and do not waver

I take a different approach to my farmer’s market shopping than my regular grocery shopping: I have a firm budget (in cash), but no plan. I like to see what’s available, what’s new and in season, and what’s interesting and sort of create a strategy around that. So, for example, if I have $20 and I see some good-looking greens, some heirloom tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, or something interesting I haven’t thought about in a while like kohlrabi or parnsips, I’ll pick them up and then plan my meals for the week around what I buy at the market and supplement with pantry items or staples I always have on hand. But I don’t exceed my budget, no matter how pretty the other produce is.

Being firm on dollars can be tricky because it’s so hard to turn stuff down. Everything is so beautiful and fresh and alluring – you just want to take it all home with you! At least, this is my problem – I’m basically a bear two weeks before hibernation, but all the time.

Bringing a finite amount of cash also makes me really think about what I can or will use – there’s no sense buying anything you’re going to end up throwing out. Be honest with yourself: even if the turnips are beautiful, does your family like them? Are they just going to go soft in your crisper, and then get tossed? We must all acknowledge that sometimes our loved ones will disappoint us.

Look at my eggplants. (Eggplants is not a euphemism.)

A photo posted by Emily Wight (@emvandee) on

 Look for bargains

Are you able to use what you buy right away? Some vendors will have bruised or otherwise priced-for-immediate-sale produce – if you’re ready to can, freeze or eat the produce right away, there’s great value to be found here.

A risky move that sometimes pays off? Head to the market in the 30 minutes or so before it wraps up for the day. Some vendors aren’t booked to sell at other markets that week, and they’ll want to get rid of what they have rather than drive it back home. Sometimes there will not be much left, but sometimes you’ll get a deal, especially on things like greens, herbs, and soft fruits that don’t keep well.

The best way to open yourself up to deals is to be willing to try anything. You may not find a good deal on the most popular items – the heirloom tomatoes, the berries, the stone fruit – but you may be able to get a pretty decent price on something less widely desired, especially root veggies, hardy greens, and some melons.

Treat produce the way you’d treat costlier protein.

It’s true, a single bunch of carrots priced at $3.99 seems like a lot; farmer’s market pricing can be a turn-off for a lot of people. Remember the cauliflower fiasco? Sometimes it does seem a bit ridiculous that these things should cost so much, but it’s also weird that we don’t regard produce more highly.

It’s true that I buy less when produce is expensive, but I also do more with it. You can roast carrots in a low oven for about an hour and they’ll turn meaty. You can make cauliflower a main dish with a bit of pasta, a simple lemon-butter sauce and a handful of nuts. Look at farmer’s market produce as the kind of thing you’d build a meal around, and treat it like steak – only buy what you will definitely use, and then cook it with care.

You wouldn’t leave a roast in the fridge to wither and die and then throw it out – think about produce the same way. You’ll eat more, and waste less.

(If your produce does manage to wither, don’t throw it out! Make stock. Even if you freeze your limp veggies for later.)

Keep your fridge and cupboards stocked with cheap staples

According to the UN, 2016 is the year of the pulse – as such, it’s definitely a good time to stock up on things like lentils, chickpeas and other legumes, many of which we grow in Canada and North America. These will stretch your produce a lot further when you combine them in salads, curries and stews, and even pastas.

I also like to make sure I have a good variety grains (noodles, rice, etc.) and proteins on hand – local tofu, canned fish, seeds and nuts, and cured meats that add a lot of flavour but that you can use sparingly and at a low cost. I’m also a big believer in flavourful condiments; steamed broccoli is steamed broccoli, but steamed broccoli tossed with a chili oil and some fermented black beans or hoisin sauce? Now your broccoli is the star of your plate. Add a few chickpeas and a generous scoop of rice? Yes.

Ask questions

What issues matter to you? Do you care if fruit is organic or GMO-free or picked by people who are paid a living wage? Ask about that stuff. I like to know where the farm is, when they picked the produce, who picked the produce. If I find someone I like, I ask whether they offer bulk buying programs like CSAs. On the rare occasion I’m looking for something in particular, I ask them if they’ll have it and when I can expect it.

What else should you ask about? Find out what the vendor would be buying and turning into dinner this weekend and this week. If you see something interesting and you’re not sure what to do with it – ask!

The people who grow ingredients often have some pretty good recipes as well. This is my favourite way to maximize my dollar and keep from getting stuck buying the same old things. The best thing about the farmers market is getting to talk to the actual producer. There are no stupid questions at the farmers market!

I win for biggest beet.

A photo posted by Emily Wight (@emvandee) on

Don’t just go for produce

The farmers market is a great place to check out meat producers and local fisheries. If you’re limiting your meat consumption, this is the easiest way to find ethically sourced animal protein; just keep in mind you may blow your whole $20 on a couple of small items.

However. The farmers market is often a gateway to a whole new world of cheaper good quality animal proteins; check out the bulk buying programs the meat vendors offer, or the community supported fishery shares your local fishmonger might have available. By committing to a relationship with a vendor for a larger purchase or a season (or more), you may find that costs will be lower once you get away from day-of-market pricing.

This approach assumes you’ll have the money up-front. If you don’t, and this is something you want to do, head to the market and get a sense of pricing, then grab contact info for later on. You may be able to purchase larger quantities later in the year, once you’re better able to afford or store it.

An aside: We really have to do better in the way that we talk about food and farmers markets.

For some people, the farmers market will seem or will really be impossible, for any number of reasons. Some places don’t have farmers markets, especially not in all seasons. Some people work on weekends and can’t get to them. For some people it’s not simply a matter of budgeting – for some people, the budget is inflexible and must stretch a lot farther in places where fresh produce is expensive, and sometimes planning a meal around some fancy carrots is a tall order.

Often, the way that we talk about food and farmers markets and how anybody should spend their money ignores the realities of a lot more people than we realize, and in turn alienates them. It’s hard to care if that head of cabbage is organic when you’re not sure if you’ve got bus fare for the week ahead; better to buy the cheaper cabbage than to not buy produce at all.

Food prices, quality and accessibility are political issues and, like all issues in our modern political landscape, they’re also very polarizing and people have a lot of opinions. On the one hand, you should be thoughtful about most of the food you’re putting into your body. On the other hand it’s just food, and food should never be exclusive.

Go to the farmers market because you want to, because it’s a thing that’s happening in the community you are a part of. If you buy one small bell pepper or bunch of Swiss chard – or nothing at all – it feels good to know what’s growing, and to talk to the people who grow the food we eat.

Look for farmers market associations in your area, and find out what they suggest in terms of shopping on a budget – different organizations may have different priorities, but I’ll bet most of them encourage their vendors to offer some items at a discount for people who have smaller budgets.

And if nothing else? Go for the coffee. It’s always good, no matter which one you go to.

Hete Bliksem.

Dutch food is often comfort food, and as such, much of it is boiled to mush and then mashed and occasionally sugared in some way. Mush and sausages features heavily in the Dutch cookbooks I’ve acquired over the past year, and while that approach to cooking is not without its merits, there’s only so much mushy stuff I can pass off as dinner around here.

And so, Hete Bliksem. Typically, this dish is a mash of potatoes and apples with bacon or ham, and sometimes pears or onions, and it’s sometimes served with stroop, a kind of Dutch syrup. There are an infinite number of variations on this, from the very high end to the very simple. My variation falls somewhere in the middle, with an updated approach to the cooking so that the dish will stand alone as well as it would alongside a plate of sausages or roast meats.

It makes thrifty use of bacon fat and stuff you’ve probably already got in your fridge and pantry; I’d like to think the Dutch, or at least the less stubborn among them, would be pleased.

Hete Bliksem

(Makes four servings.)

  • 1/4 lb. bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 lb. crisp, sweet apples, such as Braeburn, Honeycrisp, or Ambrosia, cored and quartered, each quarter then halved again lengthwise, and then halved again cross-wise
  • 1 lb. new or nugget potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup apple cider or unsweetened apple juice
  • 2 tbsp. fancy molasses
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

In a 12-inch cast iron or other oven-transferable pan over medium high heat, cook bacon until it is very crispy and all the fat has rendered, about six minutes. Scoop the bacon from the pan and onto a plate lined with paper towel, and set aside.

You will need about three tablespoons of fat in the pan; if you don’t have another, add up to another tablespoon of fat, either bacon fat or olive oil. Add potatoes and apples to the pan, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat.

Roast apple and potato mixture for 60 minutes, flipping midway through the cooking process.

About 10 minutes before these are done, add apple juice, molasses, allspice and pepper to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until reduced by about half  – it should be about the consistency of maple syrup.

Add cider vinegar and mustard, and set aside.

Remove the potato and apple mixture from the oven. Sprinkle with thyme and reserved bacon, then pour apple juice reduction over top, stirring to coat. Serve in the pan, or spooned onto a serving plate, and garnish with chopped scallions.

No-recipe tacos*.

Think about the meal you want to make. Do you have everything you need? Check the fridge. You are probably out of tortillas, or perhaps you didn’t have them in the first place. Put on your boots, find your shopping bag and debit card, and walk three blocks to the corner store for corn tortillas, preferably small ones because the tacos will be held by small hands. Grab limes, cilantro, and a package of Reese peanut butter cups to eat alone later.

Grab coffee at the hipster café up the road and check your phone. Listen to the ambient rhythm of quiet chatter, and bask in the sweet sound of no one calling your name from a bathroom. Lose yourself on Instagram for 37 minutes.

Think about an alternative taco, because the chorizo might be spicy and the child, aged four years, is sensitive to anything hotter than a bell pepper, despite your best efforts to expand his palate. He likes corn. Doesn’t he? You think he likes corn, and if you caramelize the corn it will start to taste like sugar. You know he likes sugar.

Return home. Kick your boots off at the door. Notice the laundry, and how no one else has noticed the laundry. Do a load of laundry.

Do another load of laundry, and then another. Do three more loads after that. It’s possible that you are some kind of wizard and the washing machine only works for you.

The dinner hour is approaching. Answer “what’s for dinner, mum?” with “tacos” and hear “I like tacos,” which you know to be a lie because the only way he’d like tacos is if tacos were chocolate chip granola bars. Believe in yourself, and in your child, who is learning and growing and becoming a whole person who will one day genuinely appreciate and enjoy tacos. Everyone likes tacos, right? Worry that he’ll grow up to be the one person who doesn’t like tacos. Practice saying things like “he’s just really sensitive” and “I’m not disappointed.”

Mince one onion. Set two pans over medium-high heat. Into one, place a pat of butter; into the other, a glug of oil. Into the butter pan, place a quarter of the minced onion; place the rest into the oil pan. Cook the onions until they are translucent and someone wanders into the kitchen to ask for a granola bar, and to say something accusatory about the smell of onions. “Why are you cooking onions?” “I’m not.” Shoo him away.

Smash and mince one garlic clove and throw it into the butter pan. Mince one jalapeño pepper and throw it into the oil pot. Cook until the onions in both pans have turned brownish. Answer three weirdly specific questions about the male anatomy as it relates to Iron Man, the Hulk, and daddy. Pour yourself a glass of wine.

Drain a can of corn, and throw the kernels into the butter pan. Stir occasionally, until the corn smells sweet and has browned in places.

Crumble a pound or so of chorizo into the oil pan, breaking it up with the backside of a wooden spoon. Cook until charred in spots, but not burned. You’ll know it when you see it. Move the granola bars to the top shelf of the pantry, as they’re becoming a point of contention.

Snip cilantro leaves into a ramekin. Cut a lime into quarters. Make salsa out of mango and apple. Spoon sour cream into a small dish. Open a jar of tomato salsa. Crumble queso fresco into a bowl. Explain that Black Widow is different from Hawkeye in some ways, but similar in others, and we should celebrate those differences and not keep bugging mum about them right now. Explain that granola bars are for lunches. Explain that you don’t care what Grandma would let him have or eat or do. Shoo him away.

Soften your tortillas. Years ago, you would have prepared these individually, and lovingly, but now you use the microwave. Something about wet paper towels and stacks of six and dish cloths and 30 seconds or so on high.

Slice an avocado. Discard overripe avocado. Slice another avocado.

Call your family to the table.

“I was hoping to have … not this,” he says.

“You told me you like tacos,” you say.

“But not this kind of tacos,” he says.

“Just taste them.”

Prepare your tacos. Start with a slice of avocado, then add a little bit of chorizo, some queso fresco, and a few cilantro leaves. Squeeze a few drops of lime juice over each one.

Watch a small hand knead a soft tortilla into a wad. Watch the wad explode into crumbs as he opens his small fist. Hand him another tortilla, and tell him he must eat it. Show him how it works. Watch his small hand knead the tortilla into a wad. Pour yourself another glass of wine.

“Eat some corn,” you say.

“Eat some corn,” you say.

“Eat some corn,” you say.

Shove a spoonful of corn into his mouth.

He is crying. You are mean.

“Drink some milk, and then take another bite,” you say.

He glares at you. “You keep this up and you’re going to bed,” you say.

He will chew his first bite of corn for 20 minutes, during which your partner will eat eight tacos and you will drink another glass and a half of wine.

Send him to bed. “Can I have a granola bar?”

Wine.

Finish your tacos. Bring him back to the table.

“Are you going to eat now?” and then, “good.”

Supervise six further bites of taco and sixty minutes of chewing. Wonder if any part of this constitutes a victory. Think about your friend Grace, with her clean apartment, and about how she probably ate a beautiful meal in appreciative company just six blocks away while you were here saying stern things about corn and avocado and respectful behaviour.

Clear the table. Load the dishwasher. Fold the laundry. Listen to him tell his father a distorted version of what you told him about Black Widow. Listen to his father tell him he doesn’t think she is sad she’s not more like Hawkeye. Listen to them read a story about Black Widow. Wonder what Mexico is like, and how long you could reasonably go for and how many tacos you could eat while you’re there.

Get settled on the couch with the same or maybe another glass of wine and your secret peanut butter cups, and last month’s Bon Appétit. Loud footsteps approach, and you imagine it must sound like thunder to the people in the apartment below.

“I’m still hungry,” he says.

“You should have eaten your dinner,” you say.

“How about I have a granola bar?”

*Individual results may vary.

SHARE, for hunger.

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When I am hungry, I am a little bit mean – a rule of thumb around here is that if I don’t have anything nice to say, someone should hand me a granola bar. When Nick is hungry, he is dumb and stumbles, the effect worse in him because low-blood sugar and its consequences are a hazard of diabetes. When our little minion is hungry, he whines and drapes himself over furniture and tells us he is very upset right now, and that he is dying of not having any treats. We’re looking into drama programs for Kindergartners. He’s going to be a star.

For people for whom there isn’t a simple fix – a trip to the pantry to restore moods and blood glucose and rumbling tummies – hunger can be consuming, reducing our ability to learn and retain information, to manage our behaviour and emotional responses, and to make rational decisions. In children, prolonged periods of malnutrition or hunger contribute to developmental delays and missed milestones – the stress and effects of hunger on a child can have lifelong cognitive and physical consequences.

And while many of us spend a lot of time moaning and complaining about the cost of living in Vancouver, the reality is that the entire Metro Vancouver region – 21 distinct municipalities occupying 2,877 square kilometers, and home to more than 2.5 million people – is a place where the basic necessities of daily life – housing, childcare, transportation, groceries – are increasingly difficult to cover on incomes that have not kept pace with rising costs.

This is how it is in a lot of places. I know. It’s hard out there right now. (Side note: eastern Canada, if you’re hiring, I’m interested.)

Food banks, and food insecurity and affordability in general, are the issues that matter most to me, which is why I’m delighted to be participating in another initiative that’s helping to get nutritious, wholesome food to the people and families who need it.

SHARE-Imagine-2016-Logo-I was recently invited to participate in a fundraising event from the SHARE Family and Community Services Society, the largest social service provider in the Tri-Cities (Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, and Port Moody). Their annual fundraising event, IMAGINE, takes place Saturday, March 5, and I’ll be participating as a judge in The Hamper Challenge. The Hamper Challenge is a Master Chef-inspired cooking competition in which local chefs will be paired with local mayors to prepare two-course meals from SHARE food bank hampers.

SHARE facts

  • Distributing out of three locations, the SHARE Food Bank serves over 5,000 people each year.
  • 35 per cent of SHARE Food Bank users are under the age of 19.
  • Food Banks receive no government funding so, SHARE relies entirely on the generosity of the community: individuals, businesses, associations, sports teams, churches, and community granting agencies, among others.
  • Last year, SHARE distributed close to 19,000 food bank hampers and 650,000 pounds of food with a retail value of more than $1.6 million.
  • Food Bank clients can use SHARE services twice per month and the food they
    receive is of supplementary assistance. It would last a family three or four days and
    enable them to save money they can put towards rent, gas, or other life expenses.

Why am I telling you this?

Because if you’re local to Metro Vancouver, you can participate too.

Come out to the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver Theatre in Coquitlam on March 5, from 7:00 p.m. on, and enjoy an evening filled with great food, fun people (and me!), live entertainment, auctions, raffle prizes, and more! Tickets are $85 each, which includes the opportunity to sample the best sweets and savouries on offer from the region’s best restaurants – be sure to vote for your favourites!

Last year, IMAGINE raised over $105,000, enabling SHARE to deliver vital programs and services to over 56,000 Tri-Cities community residents.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit sharesociety.ca/imagine. I also have tickets to give away – enter the raffle below to win two tickets to the event, which will be available at will call on March 5. The raffle closes on March 3.

Click here to enter the giveaway

If you can’t attend, but still want to support IMAGINE 2016, you can donate online. I hope to see you there!