Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Being Normal: Mountain Top Cafe and Bakery, North Vancouver

background info: Until Tal was gluten free, Markus took the kids out every Saturday while I wrote or did graphic work, and bought them a sausage roll at the now-burnt-down Oven Door Bakery. It was the highlight of the week for all of them, especially Tal, who takes after his father with his enormous desire for sausage of any type.

Fast forward to present time: We discovered a little gluten-free bakery in North Van -- we were SO excited! They advertise that they serve breakfast (pancakes & eggs, granola, cinnamon buns, etc.) AND lunch (pizza, sandwiches, soup, sausage rolls)... obviously it is our family's dream-come-true.

Yesterday Tal and I had a town-adventure, together, so we packed up early and went there for breakfast. It turned out to be in the back of a dingy little forgotten mall, and it didn't open until 11. So we went away and came back starving... really desperate for some pancakes and eggs! When the employee called Tal a little girl, he didn't blink, since more than 99% of the people we meet assume he's a girl... who just happens to dress and behave like a typical North American boy. He looked at me with what I recognize as the I'm-not-brave-enough-today look, and timidly said "I'm a boy".

The employee looked at me and her mouth dropped open. "No. It's a girl."

"Actually, no," I said (this is by far not the first time someone has challenged the fact that my son is a boy). "He's a wonderful boy who likes to have long hair, just like his father."

"No way! She's a boy?" She gaped and pointed at my son, who by this time was staring at the wall behind me, alternately with the floor.

"Yes, he is a boy. And many of the boys in his class, and many of our male friends also have long hair. Isn't it nice?"

At this point the owner came out, hearing, no doubt, that a customer was starting to sound irritated. The employee looked at her boss as if hoping for support: "We're talking about this kid - he or she - the mother says it's a boy!" The owner explained to his employee that it's a matter of fashion, and that he too had had very long hair as a boy.

Had it been any other establishment, I would have suggested we find a better restaurant, and left. But you have to understand... this was, as far as I know, the only gluten-free restaurant on the North Shore, and Tal had been looking forward to it for days. I ordered pancakes and eggs and bacon for Tal; omelet with toast for myself. They didn't have tea. When the food arrived, Tal began to eat; his was decidedly OK -- not great, but he liked it. My omelet had that burnt-egg taste on the outside and was very runny, inside -- no toast. The employee explained that she didn't want the egg to get cold while waiting for the toast, so she's bring it later. She did. It was that dry-textured, bland rice-bread with a bit of butter. No condiments. So I drowned it in Tal's syrup and pretended it was pancakes. that was edible. We bought some cookies and sausage-rolls to go, and we went. Tal was very very happy.

You may think that's the end of the story, but no -- I had to go back again today, since we were in town, and I thought Tal would be happy to get a gluten-free pizza. As soon as the employee came out from the back, she looked at Rhiannon (who didn't come, yesterday) and said: "Oh hi! You're back already! Is this your little girl?" Yes... She pointed at Tali again. "I still don't understand your other one. Such long hair. It's a boy?" "Yes, but I think that's enough about it." I put my finger to my lips. She said "but really - it's a boy?" I put my finger to my lips and I hope I gave her a serious-looking glare.

beware:rant For-Somebody's-Sake! Can't people just accept that people aren't all the same... and even if they can't, can't they have a little common sense and compassion for a six-year-old boy who just wants to be normal? the truth is, having long hair IS normal!! Especially where he comes from! What the hell is the hang-up about it?! Most people, upon my or his assertion that he's actually a boy, become very apologetic and either say, "Oh now I see; it's obvious", or "I should have known; my son/friend/brother/nephew/whatever also has long hair..." but there are always these stupid few who either chide me (one woman actually shook her finger at me and "tsk tsk you shouldn't have done that"), or flat out disbelieve that he's a boy... it's more of an insult to their intelligence than to Tal's choice of hairstyle. I HATE that people's ignorance causes my dear and beautiful pain. I absolutely hate it.

And back to that restaurant: we got 3 mini-pizzas, 1 small steamed milk, 3 gingersnaps & a box of little rumballs. It was all OK, but nowhere near as good as what we make at home, and we had to eat it in the dingy flourescent-lit cafe, surrounded by the drone of multiple coolers, fans, machines and ventilation systems... and it cost us over $40. But Tal was so happy that he actually went and ordered steamed milk himself from the employee (he obviously wasn't nearly as irritated by her remarks as I was). And then when we left and he forgot his sweater, he went running all the way back through the mall to get it -- without me.

So this little cafe in the dingy back-corner of a tiny mall has been a study in normalcy for us: the confrontation with the employee gave Tal (I think) a feeling of proving himself, and the fact that he can basically leave his gluten-intolerance at the door and enjoy himself made him feel normal. It's probably his new favourite restaurant.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

How to Eat Slugs

For anybody who is interested in the how-to of slug-consuming, here is the recipe I posted on our blog 2 years ago, when we ate our first slugs. Since then, I've learned enough to know that eating leopard slugs and dusky arions is the way to go (they're the edible invasives that are taking the habitat of the banana slugs). But nevertheless, here you go... the full slug deets:

(Cross-posted from an Oct. 2007 post at Rickshaw Unschooling, my previous blog.)
Today we harvested slugs. Yes -- slugs. Banana slugs. We, the intrepid harvesters of all foods wild and edible, tromped out in the dark, heavy forest looking for slugs. And found one. One green one, and one black one, which we declined to eat, because our friend Sheila says they taste like rubber tires, and even just licking them raw can make your tongue numb. (Not appetizing, we thought.)

We were terribly disappointed in the lack of slugs, turned over many an old rotten log and stone in our search, and ended up bringing home a large collection of various grubs, worms, millipedes, and one beetle and very large centipede as a result. Luckily it started raining on the way home, and we did manage to harvest 4 slugs on the return walk: one for each of us!

Here are the kids, discussing our plans at a particularly devoid-of-slugs-moment in the woods (notice Rhiannon's horrible eye infection in this video! Poor Annie!):

Finally, we did get home with the slugs, and the following photos will tell the story:
The Recipe: Deep-Fried Slugs and Green Tomatoes
Allow the slugs to live in a bucket or terrarium full of healthy wild greens for at least a few days (we leave them for about a week). This ensures they've excreted any potential poisons they may have ingested prior to being harvested, and fed up on healthy greens.

Look at the slugs before you kill them. Say "poor slugs", and "I'm sorry, but I hope you taste yummy." Then pick off any large pieces of dirt.

Drop slugs into a bowl with ½ vinegar, ½ hot water. Soak for 10 minutes or so to kill them and remove slime.

Rinse, then boil for about 3 minutes; change water.

Rinse, and boil again, until they stop producing slime. Stir well to separate slime from slugs, then rinse thoroughly. Slit along ventral side of each slug, being careful not to slice the organs, inside, and pull out the digestive gland (in posterior of slug), and any other organs that come out easily.

Turn slug inside out, cut a small slice into the inside of the mantle and slip out the shell. (I am sure we could eat this, but in the interest of education we took them out to examine.)
Show your amazing gutted slug to Pappa:

Rinse slugs again, cut into bite-sized pieces, and bread. We used eggs, and cornflour with a bit of salt, cumin, savoury, and garlic mixed in. We breaded halved green cherry tomatoes in the same way.
Deep-fry, until nice and brown!


They were like a cross between chicken and calamari. A bit like escargot, although I've never experienced deep-fried escargot, so I can't say, exactly! Certainly they were delicious, and the combination with green tomatoes was lovely!
Tim Pearce, Asst Curator and Head, section of Mollusks, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, provided crucial information to our pre-hunting research, via his comments on the Shell-Collecting Tribe: Tim advises removing the digestive gland before eating, cooking the slugs to kill any potential parasites, and soaking them in 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water, to kill and remove slime. He also suggests changing the water repeatedly during boiling, to get rid of slime.

The Urban Pantheist also provides interesting information on banana slugs. The Latin name for our prey is Ariolimax columbianus.

A Note on Conservation:
The E-Fauna BC website lists Pacific Banana slugs as yellow-listed, which is very well indeed for our harvesting of them, but I do wonder if they might be threatened by other species, here. When I was young I remember lots of large banana slugs, and what we called "Army Slugs" (black-spotted banana slugs), and a similarly large amount of black Arion slugs. Now it seems the banana slugs are fewer, while we have an enormous increase in the number of red Arion slugs in the garden (in fact, I don't remember ever seeing them, as a child). This is just passing observation, but unfortunate if it's true that the introduced Arion slugs are pushing out our native mollusks. For this reason we won't be harvesting large quantities of banana slugs, and I intend to research whether or not Arion Rufus might cause tongue-numbness, as does the black Arion variety. If it turns out to be highly edible, we will certainly harvest them, instead!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Wild Food: Stink Currant Jam

...with [not wild] tongue wrapped in stink currant leaves.

First go for an adventure in the woods. There are hundreds if not thousands of stink currant bushes in Crippen Park, reaching fragile awkward limbs toward any place sun breaks through the canopy of cedar, hemlock and fir. Sadly, the pale blue powdery berries are usually few and far between, and it takes a long journey to find enough for a small jar of jam. Thankfully the forest-experience alone is reason enough to take the journey! (See the bucket? The 7 berries collected so far soon found their way to the forest floor, and henceforth the berries were carried in pockets.)

Collect a big handful of stink currant leaves. At home, boil and skin a steer's tongue, then marinate it briefly in a warm red wine. Place it in a casserole with about 1/2 - 1 inch of wine still around it. Wrap it tightly in the leaves, and attach with toothpicks, pinning on a halved clove of garlic each time. The leaves' scent is earthy and strong, and will give a very slight "forest" flavour to the meat. Cover and roast for at least 2 hours, basting with the wine every so often.

Stink currant jam: Add a small amount of water to the gathered stink currants in a pot (do not cover), and cook until the currants become mushy. When the mixture begins to resemble jam, add enough sugar to bring out the flavour, without masking it. It will be reasonably bitter and earthy-tasting. Continue to cook and mash until it becomes a good jam.

Eat! Unwrap the roast, and serve with a bit of the warm jam, and maybe some fresh vegetables from the garden or forest! We had it with beans, zucchini, and potatoes.

Oh yes -- and definitely invite somebody to dinner to share the bounty.