Hunger Awareness Week: Barley porridge and “baked” apples.

We’ve talked about who needs food banks (people like you and I), and the kinds of products food banks frequently receive and the services they offer. Food Banks Canada is an incredible, essential resource for hundreds of thousands of people and families every year. It’s inspiring, and there’s a lot you can do to help.

You can donate food. Food drives during the holidays are a great start, and food donation bins at your local supermarket are a great way to give all year. Do you shop at places like Superstore (or other Loblaw’s stores), or Shopper’s Drug Mart? Take advantage of points programs (PC Plus and the Shopper’s Optimum program, respectively) that reward you with points toward cash to buy more than you need and donate the excess, or cash in your extra points for groceries you can donate anytime of year.

You can donate money. You can give once, or you can set up monthly donations. You can also make a gift in honour of a friend or family member, either in celebration or in memory. Wondering where your money goes? Read Food Banks Canada’s Donor Impact Report.

You can donate time. Consider hosting a food drive, starting a fundraiser, or setting up a food donation bin in your workplace or school. Get the whole family involved and make hunger an issue you tackle together.

You can change the conversation online. We talk a lot about food porn and foodies, but not enough about food security or food justice. Tweet about hunger. Participate in #FoodbankFriday on Instagram and share your donation with your audience to inspire them to do the same. And share on Facebook about food drives in your area to draw attention to campaigns to food bank stock shelves in your community.

You can bug your politicians. And, as we’re right smack in the middle of election season, you can ask your candidates what they plan to do to address poverty and hunger in your community and across the country. Make them earn your vote, and put them to work once they’re elected. Politicians aren’t food insecure; don’t let them forget that many people are and that they can do something about it. 

Overnight barley porridge with applesMy last Hunger Awareness Week recipe is a breakfast recipe, because people who have a little something in their bellies to start the day perform better at work, have fewer accidents, and have the energy to get through the day. Kids who eat breakfast are less disruptive in school, pay more attention, and are less likely to act out. This recipe for overnight barley porridge is easy, and requires just five minutes in the morning. Take advantage of your microwave to fake the taste of baked apples. This is way better than cold buttered toast as you run out the door.

Overnight barley porridge with “baked” apples

Porridge:

  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
  • 1/4 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Apples:

  • 1 lb. sweet, firm-fleshed apples (such as ambrosia, honeycrisp or braeburn; about two medium apples), peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

In a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, bring barley, salt and three cups of cold water to a boil. Once it’s hit a rolling boil, turn off the heat and slap the lid on it. Let it sit on your stove overnight.

When you wake up in the morning, place diced apples, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a microwave-safe bowl, and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Microwave on high for four minutes.

Meanwhile, add half a cup of milk, brown sugar and cinnamon to barley, and stir to break up the grains. Heat for three to five minutes, until liquid is bubbling and grains are hot.

Serve porridge in bowls, topped with apples and additional sugar, as desired.

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Hunger Awareness Week: Slow cooker borscht.

Food bank use in Canada is 25 per cent higher now than it was before the first recession hit in 2008. One of the reasons for this is that many typically reliable or well-paid jobs, especially blue-collar jobs, have disappeared. Another is that wages, especially for what blue-collar jobs or less skilled labour roles remain, have not increased with the cost of living. Particularly vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or those on disability, have also been affected by inflation and corresponding lack of increase in benefits. In addition to providing emergency food hampers, many food banks provide additional services.

People who turn to food banks often need other types of assistance. Food banks have responded and many now provide advocacy and supports such as:

  • providing skills training such as food preparation skills,
    helping people to search for jobs and transition into employment,
  • raising community awareness about hunger and poverty,
  • assisting with the search for safe, affordable housing,
  • helping people find good quality, affordable child care,
  • providing referrals to other social agencies and support services.
    (Source: Food Banking in Canada)

One of the major barriers to cooking healthy meals at home is time. The logistics of poverty are often time-consuming, particularly as the cost of living in urban centres increases; to afford housing, people often live a long way from where they work or from the services they need to access. Many people rely on public transportation which, particularly in Vancouver, is only reliable in urban centres; the farther you get from the city, the bigger a hassle it can be to get to where you need to go on public transit.

Spending all day in transit can sap the enthusiasm for dinner-making from even the most devoted home-cook. The allure of convenience foods is strongest in those moments when even a pantry meal feels impossible, particularly when you need to feed other people (especially small children, who are not known for their patience or empathy).

For people who are pressed for time, crock pot recipes can be a life-saver. You can purchase an inexpensive, good quality slow cooker at department stores, but you can also find gently used slow-cookers online for pretty reasonable prices on sites like Craigslist or Kijiji. Mine holds about six quarts, which I find handy as it makes enough for dinner and for leftovers, which I can freeze or take to work for lunch.

The following recipe for a slow-cooker borscht is ideal for people for whom time is in short supply. I like to brown the meat and assemble the ingredients the night before, then put everything in the cooker in the morning before I head out the door.

It’s warming and hearty, and it makes generous use of inexpensive but nutrient-dense vegetables like beets, carrots and cabbage. And it makes a lot of it, so you can pack it into containers and reheat it whenever you need a bowl of something warm. Use cheap cuts of beef, like chuck, shank, or brisket, or omit the meat entirely (in that case, just add the butter straight to the Crock Pot).

Slow-cooker borscht

(Makes six servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 lb. cubed stewing beef (such as chuck or brisket) or beef shank
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 lbs. beets, peeled, trimmed and diced
  • 1 lb. waxy potatoes, such as red or Yukon Gold, diced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into one-inch pieces
  • 1/2 small head of red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
  • 7 garlic cloves, divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5.5-oz. (128 mL) can tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar, divided
  • 1 tbsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • Sour cream and fresh or dried dill, to garnish

Melt butter over medium-high heat and add beef. Brown on all sides, and then pour into the slow cooker.scraping the pan as you do so as not to waste any of those good flavours.

Add onions, beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and six smashed garlic cloves to the cooker. Add the bay leaf.

In a large bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and six cups of water. Pour this mixture over beef-and-veggie mixture.

Cook for eight to 10 hours over low heat.

Before serving, mince remaining clove of garlic and add the remaining tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. If using beef shank, remove meat from pot and shred it off the bone using the tines of a fork, then return meat to the pot and discard bones. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed.

Serve with toasted bread and a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill.

Hunger Awareness Week: Potato cakes with salmon and kale.

While you might imagine that the food bank is all about canned and boxed non-perishable goods, the reality is that 40 per cent of the food donated is fresh and frozen produce.

In Canada, 80 per cent of food banks provide at least one service above and beyond hampers and meals. In some communities, this can mean gardening programs or community kitchens, where people learn to cook and preserve what they harvest. These programs are empowering and sustainable, and engage young people and communities in the food system. If you’re not able to get to a store and buy food to donate, consider donating cash.

Funds donated to Food Banks Canada go a long way. Food Banks Canada and provincial and regional food banks form partnerships with retailers, local businesses and farmers, and are able to stretch their dollar considerably; the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society reports that every dollar donated is actually worth three dollars, which supports not just community programs, but also the purchase fresh produce and protein sources when they are most needed.

Today’s recipe combines fresh, in-season produce with canned salmon (rich in brain-boosting DHA) for a hearty meal that works as well for breakfast as it does for dinner. This is something you can mix up ahead of time; it’s also easily adapted to the leftovers you have in your fridge. It uses kale, because kale grows like weeds and it’s hardy enough to live in your fridge for a few days while you use up other things.

Potato cakes with salmon and kale

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 1 lb. red-skinned potatoes
  • 1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups finely chopped fresh kale, stems discarded
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 7.5-oz. (213 mL) can salmon, drained
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce, such as Sriracha or Tabasco
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Oil for frying

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a large pot of salted water, bring diced red potatoes to a boil (make sure to leave their skins on!) and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook until lightly browned, about two minutes. Add kale, and then garlic. Toss to coat kale in oil.

Drain the potatoes, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Pour reserved liquid into the pan with the kale, and cook, stirring frequently until water evaporates and kale has wilted, another minute or so.

Pour kale and potatoes into a large bowl. Mash, then set aside to cool enough to continue, about 15 minutes.

Add salmon in chunks, removing bones. Add mustard, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Add eggs. Mush the whole mixture together until thoroughly combined, then form into eight cakes.

Cakes!Working in batches, fry over medium-high heat, about two minutes per side. Place cooked cakes in a pie plate and keep warm in the oven until you’re ready to serve.

Serve cakes with boiled or steamed vegetables or a garden salad, and a glob of mustard for dipping.

Hunger Awareness Week: Whole grain pasta with chickpeas and caramelized tomato sauce.

A well-stocked pantry has saved my butt on more occasions than I can count. Being able to open a cupboard and see a few simple things that could equal dinner is something I don’t take for granted – it’s a reassuring thing, and a luxury for many. Whether it’s because payday is too far away or I’m just too lazy to get to the market over the weekend, pantry meals warm my home and filled my belly most weeks, and have for my whole life.

When choosing non-perishable items to donate to the food bank, try to select nutritious items to fill the pantries of those with diverse dietary needs.

  • Fifty per cent of food bank users are families, including children; consider donating kid-friendly items like granola bars, breakfast items like oatmeal or other hot cereals, sugar-free applesauce, or peanut- or gluten-free items for school lunches.
  • If 20 per cent of people who use the food bank are seniors, consider seniors’ health issues (diabetes, heart disease, hypertension): select low-sodium canned goods, low-sugar or sugar-free canned or pureed fruits, lean proteins including peanut butter and legumes, whole grain and gluten-free pastas, and high-fibre grains and cereals.
  • For families with babies and young children, consider donating baby food, infant formula, or diapers in a range of sizes (not just newborn). Nursing mums need nutrition too – fortified cereals, canned fish (especially sardines, salmon, herring and mackerel), low-sodium canned soups and stews, and parboiled grains can be beneficial, especially for parents who are pressed for time.

Pasta with caramelized tomato sauce and garlic.A pantry with a few staples you’ll use again and again can go a long way to making you feel secure. Today’s recipe is an easy one – it’s comprised of stuff you probably already have, and it’s hearty enough to feed a family of four to a comfortable degree of fullness. It’s kid-friendly, at least at my table. It’s also suitable for people with diabetes, and it reheats well for lunch at work the next day.

Whole wheat pasta with chickpeas and caramelized tomato sauce

(Makes four servings.)

  • 1 lb. whole-wheat or other whole-grain pasta, such as penne or rotini
  • 19-oz. (540 mL) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili flakes (optional)
  • 5.5-oz. (128 mL) can low-sodium tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley to garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add pasta. Cook according to package instructions, about 11 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, and cook for two minutes, until just translucent. Add chili flakes (if using) and garlic. Cook until onions and garlic have just turned golden, another three minutes. Add tomato paste. Stir constantly to keep the paste moving around the pan and cook until colour deepens and butter seems to have disappeared, four to six minutes.

Before draining the pasta, reserve about two cups of cooking water. Drain pasta, and add pasta and chickpeas to the pan. Stir, then add water half a cup at a time until sauce has loosened and coats the noodles thoroughly. Taste, adjusting seasonings as desired. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Hunger Awareness Week: Rice and lentil pilaf.

It’s funny how we think about poverty, and how we distance ourselves from it in reassuring ways. It’s a thing that happens to other people, and it is complicated. Maybe it’s because of their choices, we reason. As if we have made the right choices. (I, personally, am an expert in making questionable choices.) It’s a thing that happens to other people, not to us.

Not to us. But a third of us are still living paycheque-to-paycheque, at least in Canada; in the US, the numbers are even higher. According to Food Banks Canada, one in six people who access the food bank are currently employed, or have been recently. Sixty-four per cent of people who need the food bank are paying market rent. In Vancouver, nearly 20 per cent of those who need the food bank in a given week are seniors.

It could totally happen to us, to quite a few of us.

September 21 to 25 is Hunger Awareness Week in Canada. According to Food Banks Canada, “Hunger Awareness Week is about raising awareness of the solvable problem of hunger in Canada.”

Hunger in Canada exists because deep and persistent poverty continues in the country. For more than a decade, diverse and inter-related factors have sustained this situation: a labour market that fails to provide enough jobs with stable, livable wages; a rise in precarious and non-standard employment; a fraying income security system that does not provide sufficient financial support for those in need; a lack of affordable, social housing; and accessible and affordable child care. (Source: hungerawarenessweek.ca)

During Hunger Awareness Week, organizations across Canada have come together to raise awareness about the realities of poverty and the people who need food banks most. One of the major goals of this campaign is to dispel some of the myths around who accesses food banks and why. This is essential, because we’re never going to truly tackle hunger and poverty and inequality if we don’t see ourselves as part of it.

It’s not a stretch to see yourself moving from broke to poor. I can see it from here, just on the other side of some accident or emergency.

Food security is an issue that’s important to me, and so I’m spending the week highlighting a few simple, nutritious recipes a person could make to feed a family using some typical food bank staples. I’ll use the platform I have here to support the campaign, share my tips for stretching your budget and making donations anytime of year, and hopefully you’ll get a few budget-friendly recipes you can enjoy anytime, whether you need them or not.

What follows is a recipe for rice and lentil pilaf, a weeknight-friendly gluten-free vegetarian dish that’s easily made vegan. It’s good (and filling) on its own, or as a side for roasted veggies or sausages or pork chops, or as an alternative to stuffing for those who don’t do gluten. It tastes a bit like stuffing, because it’s meant to be comfort food. I serve this with beet pickles.

Rice and lentil pilaf with apple and mushrooms

(Makes four servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium apple, cored and diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. dried sage
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1 cup green or brown lentils, rinsed
  • Celery leaves, for garnish

In a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, such as a Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, apple, and celery, and saute until fragrant and until onions are translucent, about three minutes.

Add garlic and mushrooms. Cook for another three to five minutes, until the mushrooms have given up most of their liquid. Add salt, sage, thyme, and pepper, and cook for one more minute, stirring to coat the veggies in the herbs.

Add rice and lentils. Add four cups of water (use chicken or vegetable stock if you prefer), and bring to a boil. Cover, then reduce heat to medium, and cook for 20 minutes.

Let rest, covered, for five minutes before serving. Garnish with celery leaves.