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Journalist. Food Writer. Producer.

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Common and Uncommon Apples, Cookbooks, and Seaweed.

After my last post about cookbooks, it appears that would be the logical place to start this post: with the announcement that Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food has been nominated for a Taste Canada Award in the Regional/Cultural Cookbook category.

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Taking a look at the nominees, that’s quite the company to keep.

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I’ve written before about being lucky enough to have grown up with an apple orchard in my backyard. My parents have a hobby orchard in my hometown of Pointe-de-l’Église, and so the act of picking an apple directly from a tree is not only familiar, but borderline necessary for me. The snap of biting into an apple is only secondary in pleasure to gentle crack of taking the apple from the branch. 

And so I would argue that Gravenstein apples are - to me - best picked a few days early, when they are almost bracingly acidic, but also at their crispest. That McIntosh isn’t worth buying in a supermarket when you’ve eaten one that was only on the tree within a 24 hour window.  That Russets - of all sorts - are almost apples designed for adults with their tight texture, gentle dryness, and so many ways of using them. It’s what made me want to write this piece for Canadian Living magazine, entitled “The Apples You Should Be Shopping For This Fall.” *

 Old Fashioned Gravensteins

Old Fashioned Gravensteins

Many thanks to Anita Stewart, Canada’s Food Laureate and maven behind Food Day Canada, as well as Rowan Jacobsen, author of “Apples of Uncommon Character” to being available to talk about the beauty of apples, and how diverse that beauty is.

Also, I do have to admit, I do take a small bit of personal joy in having an image of my father’s Old Fashioned Gravensteins take centre stage. Conflict of interest? Maybe. But I am my father’s son.

That piece went live on the very same day that it was reported that the Red Delicious was on its way out as the best selling apple in North America.  Serendipity being what it is, I got a call from a producer at CBC Radio’s As It Happens, asking if I would talk about the Red Delicious, and why it may deserve it’s not-so-gentle tumble from first place. Although it may have been “delicious” at some point in it’s trajectory from one lone tree to the most-grown, success changed the apple, and also changed how we consume them.

Yesterday was also publication day for another story I filed, this time for The Huffington Post, on seaweeds/sea vegetables.

 To be clear: 'Superfood' is put in quotation marks for a reason. *

To be clear: 'Superfood' is put in quotation marks for a reason. *

People are looking at them for all sorts of resources - from nutrition to medicine, from ecological as well as gastronomical - but will it work?  I chatted with a few people to talk about the eating of it, such as Nancy Singleton Hachisu - author of the recent Japan: The Cookbook, as well as Jonathan Kauffman, who’s book Hippie Food: How Back To The Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat is a treat. I also had a great time Skype-ing with Tamar Haspel, who gave me some of the best quotes for the piece. Haspel’s work over at the Washington Post has earned her a James Beard Award, and her Twitter feed is worth checking out for her no-nonsense approach to agricultural/food issues. Agree with her or not, she has a deft turn of the pen/keyboard. 

 Recipe for rose sugar - hang out with your mother on the coast of Saint Mary's Bay, collect wild roses. Place in sugar. 

Recipe for rose sugar - hang out with your mother on the coast of Saint Mary's Bay, collect wild roses. Place in sugar. 

In the meantime, enjoy the summer in whatever way works best for you. I’ll be putting up everything I can get my hands on, probably with the rose sugar I recently put together.  Thanks to my friend Stephen Sherman Wade for the inspiration.  The last of the strawberries have benefited greatly from it, as did my mother and I as we collected the petals...

 

 

* It should be noted that writers and journalists rarely select the titles of their journalistic endeavours, and even less so in a landscape that is powered by searchable results. I don’t blame my editor for any titles, and I don’t envy their position either.

Out like a lion, in like a well-seasoned lamb.

As someone who makes a living by recording other people’s voices, I am often told, “I sound so different.” No, I think you sound exactly as I know you.

But waking up this morning on this first Monday of the new year, I experienced a bit of that.  I was listening to my local morning show on CBC Radio, and I heard my name being called. It was an interview I had recorded with the host, chatting about food trends and topics for 2016. 

To be honest, I am used to hearing my own voice on the radio. I have recorded, edited, and heard my own voice quite a lot over the past few years, so it doesn’t phase me. Maybe it was because I wasn’t awake, but I listened to myself chatting away with the host, and thought, “I should be doing more of this.”

So that’s my resolution. To tell more stories that I am proud of. Stories like that of the Chen family, and how tofu was more than food, it was a way of life. Stories like that of Alexandra Mansour, and how an immigrant housewife came to change the palate of an entire community of rural Nova Scotians.  Stories that speak close to home, whether home is in Nova Scotia, or 2000 miles away. Like the story I told in Gravy, the Southern Foodways Alliance’s podcast. 

*

I've already started on things for the new year. New radio pieces. More stories. And most importantly,  I'm working on a book project, one that will take me throughout Atlantic Canada, and through decades of dishes. Dishes likes the ones detailed in these recipe. But more on that later. Stay tuned.

They say years come in like a lamb, and out like a lion. I say this year went out with a roar, but this new one is coming in like a well-seasoned lamb. Tasty, indeed. 

 

The Value of Story

We used to subscribe to magazines, newspapers, book clubs, and all sorts of things. We paid for these things, and enjoyed what was brought to our doorsteps and mailboxes. We would read, digest, discuss, and even occasionally throw said magazine or book across the room because someone wrote something that incensed us. 

Then the internet came around.

We started getting content for free. But more importantly, the value of said “free” content soon began to reflect the investment that was placed into paying for it. In other words, much of the content began to have next to value. 

And we accepted it because hey, it's free. 

No computers were thrown about, but we did all of a sudden have an abundance of trolls living under bridges. And clickbait. And listicles. 

I'm not interested in free content. I'm interested in good content. I'm a freelancer,and I work hard to get paid. I often joke that I won't get out of bed for less than ten cents a word* but I will tell you that oftentimes the work I am the most proud of is the work that has been paid for by people who work just as hard to pay me. 

We happily pay roughly $5 for a good latte, or a pastry, and seriously, you should pay good money for good food. Nourishment is essential to our lives. 

So is information.  

I am willing to pay so that I can be informed, educated, and inspired. A few sites/magazines/shows have gone to create online funding campaigns to kickstart their careers. They evoke a sense of charity as well as excitement, but those things wane quickly. And once that money is gone, it’s gone. You can’t budget on charity and excitement.

Recently two shows I listen to often started campaigns to get monthly patrons of their shows. CANADALAND, by Jesse Brown is a great show about media, ethics, and broadcasting. I don’t always agree with Jesse - and sometimes even think he’s a bit unnecessarily snarky - but I think he does great work. I don’t mind giving up an extra snack once a month so that he knows, somewhere, a little extra steady funding is coming in.  

Another show I decided to become a patron of was Fugitive Waves, which is part of the Radiotopia. Fugitive Waves is put out by the Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. I had the chance to meet the two sisters, and Davia was even kind enough to give me some pointers on some of my own work.

In fact, Radiotopia is in the middle of a campaign to get people to pledge $75,000 to be able to continue to produce good content. And they were able to do it because more and more people believe in and are willing to pay for said content. 

I'm not writing this because I want to say, "Hey I'm a good guy and I do this, humblebrag, et cetera," but because I believe in changing the way we consume media, and the way we value said information. I think that's worth $5 a month. 

 

*With apologies and thanks to both Linda Evangelista and Melissa Buote for stealing that.

Get out the Gravy

This spring, I had the chance to meet two very lovely people. John T. Edge and Tina Antolini from the Southern Foodways Alliance. The two of them were on cloud nine after having won the James Beard Award for Gravy, their magazine and podcast. 

Tina and started chatting, and soon the idea of telling an Acadian/Cajun story came up.  From that idea came this story, The Cajun Reconnection

 The front page of the SFA's website. The photo shown was taken in 1936, of a delegation of Cajuns visiting Nova Scotia. 

The front page of the SFA's website. The photo shown was taken in 1936, of a delegation of Cajuns visiting Nova Scotia. 

Doing the research and interviews for this story has been not only a great experience, but a familial one as well. Talking to the subjects, I kept coming across  more and more intricate Acadian and Cajun connections. This person knew that person, that person was related to this one, and even some of the stories I heard were even connected to Gravy itself.  At one point, Georgette and Rachelle were talking about Tante Sue, a well known patron of Fred's Lounge. 

It's a small world indeed. But this is a big story. Take a listen on the Southern Foodways website, or on iTunes.  You can also listen to it on Gravy's Soundcloud page