What a day.
We spent our Saturday at the Eat Alberta conference. Their site describes it best:
Through a mix of hands-on and demonstration workshops, tasting sessions, and presentations from some of the leaders of our food community – farmers, chefs and local food advocates – Eat Alberta participants will learn how to use and source local food as well as develop nurturing and ongoing relationships with one another and with those that produce our food.
Did we ever learn a lot.
The opening key note speakers were Jennifer Berkenbosch and James Vriend, of Sundog Organic Farm fame. This young family have bravely broken the mold of what people generally do (meaning the routine of working, commuting, shopping at Safeway, with feet barely touching ground that hasn’t been covered in concrete or asphalt). This family has moved to the country and are playing with tractors, have the feel of dirt in their hands, and are experiencing the challenges and the joy that comes from watching a planted seed turn into something lovely that you can feed your family (and farmer’s market shoppers) with.
Jennifer’s speech resonated with pride, and you could hear that she and her husband clearly love what they do. So inspiring was their talk, me, and a few fellow attendees left the session determined, even on our apartment and condo balconies, to plant something that we can grow into food. I am tempted also to keep a goat but I am a practical girl after all, and it would be unfair to the goat to live on a 12′ x 4′ balcony, no matter how pretty the view.Our first hands-on session was Sausage Making at Home with Allan Suddaby, chef, culinary arts student, and blogger at Button Soup. Allan had us chopping garlic, tearing oregano leaves, and grinding pepper within minutes of the class starting. Next up was a quick explanation of meat and why fat is Good, and before you know it, we were grinding meat, mixing it like dough, rinsing hog casing and making sausages. Our class was split in two, and one half created the Italian sausage, and our side made a full-of-garlic kielbasa. Lucky for us, each one of us got to take home a sample of each of the sausages.
When I explained this session to my Mom, she recalls that as a child growing up on the farm, when my grandmother took to making sausage, they stuffed the casings by hand. BY HAND! I had to clarify this twice with her, because it seems impossible, but my friends, apparently it was done.
After sausage making, we got to step outside and gather a breath of fresh air on our way over to the new Transcend location on Jasper Avenue for a World Tour of Coffee, lead by Transcend’s own Chad Moss, culinary lead and the most excited person on the planet about coffee (my own words).
Chad positively vibrates, and I’m sure its from excitement and not just the caffeine he consumes, when talking about coffee. In particular, his enthusiasm is evident when discussing perfect coffee, or “top of the Oliver table” as we learned.
We were each given three samples to try, and were taught to breathe deep, slurp noisily and swish for the full coffee experience. If it sounds like a wine tasting, you are absolutely right, except they call it “cupping”.
At the Transcend location on 63 Ave they have a sign that reads, “dare you to drink it black”, and with the quality of the Transcend bean, this has never been a problem. Talking to one fellow attendee, she said, “no wonder I have needed to add French Vanilla imitation creamer to my coffee at home – I’ve been drinking twigs, dog hair, tractor diesel and coffee bean husks”. I think we all left with our eyes opened.
The most impressive part of the Transcend experience is to see how committed they are to developing relationships with the people who grow and harvest coffee. They understand that business is not just about the exchange of money, but developing trust, fairness and friendship.
Back to Enterprise Square, for lunch, we were bombarded with delicious sandwiches provided by the Italian Centre Shop, local meats and cheeses and jams and breads and cookies. Nobody left lunch feeling hungry. In fact, many of us were fighting the urge for a few minutes shut eye before our afternoon sessions.
Our first afternoon session was Making Goat Cheese Brie with Holly Gale, local farmer and artisan cheese maker at Smoky Valley Goat Cheese. As with the sausage, cheese making, at least Goat Cheese Brie making, is easy… and fun! But… the ubiquitous but… you need time.
Holly loves her craft, and it is evident she has been cheese making for a very long time. Years ago, I asked my Mom, Queen of the Pot Roast, how to make it. She was vague in her response, she said, you do this, you do that, then you put it in the oven. For how long would I cook it, I would ask my Mom, and she would say things like well, until it’s done.
Holly, although she provided us with recipes, had that same sort of response to our questions. She has all the wisdom and skill of cheese making honed over the years, but to learn it, truly learn it, you would be best to apprentice and do it along side her, rather than figure it out on your own. Mind you, I sat beside adventurous and daring people who are already attempting cheese making in their own kitchens, and to you, I tip my hat. Michael and I, however, will be much happier just visiting our local farmers market and buying the finely crafted cheese from a local vendor.
Our last session was Eating and Drinking with the delightful and interesting Mary Bailey. We were given MORE CHEESE (I cannot say how much cheese I ate Saturday, but it was a lot, enough to last me for weeks) and some tasty Canadian wines – two whites, two reds, an ice wine and some beer. The session was fun and light-hearted, and turned into a social affair instead of a proper instructional class. I suppose one can expect that as it was the last session of the day, and well, we were given wine, which after the first sips turned our table-mates into happy chatter-boxes. After the first few samples, Michael nor I really heard any of the instructional part of the session. Although I’m honest enough to admit loud noise and chatter during instruction annoys the hell out of me, I let that go and embraced the fun. How can it not be fun sitting across from a lovely lady called Xina Chrapko (subtitled Xina, Warrior Wine Maker)? Xina runs a farm and built Alberta’s first and only organic-fruit cottage winery.
Our final key-note speaker was Kevin Kossowan. Although the room was overly warm and we were tired, we were riveted by Kevin’s message. It was about the world of local food, farming challenges, farmer’s market politics, and community. As the promo in our leaflet described it, “The local food scene is not as incredible as we might think it is: it’s even better”.
This day was well run, well organized, and went by in a blur. It was like living in a Food Network show, but we were up front and personal. As Jennifer put it in our opening key-note presentation, working with others is conducive for building relationships and creating conversation.
The sponsors, organizers, and volunteers did a terrific job with the first Eat Alberta event. We cannot wait for next year’s session.
(PS: Michael and I cooked our sausage samples up for our Sunday supper. The sausages were absolutely delicious, flavourful works of porky goodness). (We want more).