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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Bookclub Dinner with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I was fortunate to be selected to enter the 24 meals, 24 cities, 24 blogs event featured by Foodbuzz. For this event I was delighted to pay tribute to my book club. We are a group of 4 women who get together every few months to discuss a novel over delicious food & drink. This month we decided on Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This blog will take you through our dinner menu (featuring local vendors), provide general comments & discussions about the book, as well as some favorite quotes.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a narrative & part memoire of Kingsolver’s family journey from an urban life in Arizona to a rural lifestyle in West Virginia, where they vow to eat only locally grown food for one year (Exceptions: spices, coffee, olive oil and flour whereby fair trade alternatives were purchased). The chapters flow from month to month and season to season recounting how the family learns about farming, gardening, cooking and ultimately become an integral part of their community.

In Kingsolver’s words:
This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals & vegetables whose provenance we really knew and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbours, drank the water, and breathed the air."

The book was written with Barbara Kingsolver’s husband, Steven Hopp and their daughter Camille Kingsolver. Steven provides scientific based sidebars regarding the industrialization of food and the global impacts it has caused. He touches on subjects such as sustainability, energy consumption, factory farming, and food-safety. While Camille’s essays focus on a teenager’s point of view of eating locally and offers up the family’s seasonal recipes.


The book inspired our book clubs dinner menu. It would be hypocritical to discuss this book while eating factory farmed chicken or vegetables that were flown halfway around the world contributing to the use of fossil fuels. Instead it stood to good reason that the food & drink we consumed would be both seasonal and locally produced. In addition we thought it would be fun to try some recipes from the book Animal, Vegetable Miracle, adding variations where necessary to keep within the local and seasonal theme.

It was also a good challenge to try eating locally and seasonally in Ottawa in November, a season that although offers some tasty fruits and vegetables is not as flourishing and plentiful as summer. Most of the markets closed down by the end of October and if you had not made appropriate arrangements to store your food for use in the winter months, you may struggle to find local foods. After some research I discovered a few local vendors and local farms with greenhouses all within a 100 mile radius. Those that were not found in a 100 mile radius were purchased from sources within Ontario (such as the wine). The first course was this wonderful butternut bean soup, which a bookclub member decorated so elegantly with local organic thyme.


1½ cups dried white beans, soaked overnight and drained
3 medium portabella mushroom caps, sliced (optional)
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbs. thyme
1 tbs. sage
4 tsp. rosemary
2 butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
Olive oil

Combine beans and spices in a large sauce pan, add water to cover amply, simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until beans are tender and most water has cooked off. Add mushrooms toward the end.

While beans are cooking, drizzle a large roasting pan with olive oil and arrange squash skin-side-down. Cook at 400 for about 40 minutes, until fully tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and serve each half squash filled with a generous scoop of bean soup.

The soup was hearty and delicious. Locally speaking, my dad was able to grow over 30 butternut squashes with nothing but sun and water.


*Original recipe adapted to use green house spinach rather than Swiss chard and jalapeno cheddar & monterey jack instead of brie. The sweet potatoes, onion, garlic and spinach came from a local organic greenhouse. The flavor and texture of these quesadillas were likely the best I have ever had.

2 medium sweet potatoes
1/2 onion
1 clove garlic
1 T oregano
1 T basil
1 tsp cumin
chile powder and cayenne powder to taste
Olive oil for saute

Cut sweet potatoes into chunks, cook until soft, then mash. Chop and sauté garlic. Add onion in a large skillet. Add spices and sweet potato, mix well, adding a little water if it’s too sticky. Turn burner very low to keep warm without burning.

4 flour tortillas
4 oz. jalapeno cheddar (St. Albert Cheese Factory)
5 leaves spinach

Preheat oven to 400. Oil a large baking sheet, spread tortillas on it to lightly oil one side, then spread filling over entire toritillas. Top with slices cheese and spinach. Place another tortilla on top of filling and press down. Bake until browned and crisp (15 min.). Cut into wedges & serve.


1-2 greenhouse tomatoes seeded and diced
1 small greenhouse onion
1 jalapeno from dad's garden
1/2 lime juiced (optional as not local)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients and serve with quesadillas.


Beets, cubed
Red or white potatoes, cubed
butternut squash, cubed
parsnips, thickly sliced
carrots, thickly sliced
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil

Peel and cut vegetables into 1" cubes, and place in a roasting pan. Toss with maple syrup and olive oil, add minced garlic and pepper. Roast in a preheated oven at 400F for 45 min or until tender, stirring occassionally.


4 apples, removed core and cut into wedges (keep skin on for rustic look)
4 pears, remove core and cut into wedges (keep skin on)
1/2 cup of liquid honey
2 vanilla beans, split and scrapped
4 cinnamon sticks or 1/4 tsp of cinnamon
2 quarts of water
juice of one lemon

In a crockpot or large pot place the apples, pears, vanilla, cinnamon and honey. Cover with water then bring to a simmer over medium to low heat for about 20mins. Once apples and pears are soft enough remove them using a slotted spoon and place on a plate. Reduce the poaching liquid to a light syrup then place fruit back in crockpot and hold on warm until ready to serve. Serve with ice cream and vanilla pod or cinnamon stick.

The flavors and aroma of vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon in these poached fruits are so warm and comforting.

Much of the food used in the meals were found at the Ottawa Organic Market. Above is my husband looking for local organic vegetables, but getting distracted by the yummy vegan pastries.

Greenhouse spinach and greens from a local Quebec farm.

Stuart's Natural Session Ale - the first all organic beer brewed in Eastern Ontario.

Ontario Wines. We enjoyed a few bottles (yes a few) of some nice dry full-bodied red wines from the Niagara on the Lake Region.

Saslove's Meat Market sells organic meats and dairy products produced from local farmers.

St. Albert Cheese Factory (Ice Cream and Cheese). I remember going here as a child to have ice cream and pick up the world famous curds, known best in French Canadian Poutine.

Ontario Grown Sweet Potatoes (Ottawa Organic Farmer's Market). I just love these roasted or cut into fries and grilled.


~ The author’s proposed way of life, is seen as a dramatic and unlikely change for most North Americans. However the manner in which Kingsolver shows her commitment and embraces her new rural life is inspirational to readers enticing us to make changes in our daily lives by rising up to the challenge of eating more locally and acknowledging our own personal carbon footprint. Her tone of voice is not preachy, rather she uses light wit and sarcasm to demonstrate how eating locally can be satisfying, while recognizing the hardships and difficulties of traditional farming.

~ In addition to the meaningful messaging concerning the harmful effects the industrialization of food has on the environment and health, I was drawn to the sense of community and family that Kingsolver so urgently desires to salvage and preserve for generation after generation. This type of lifestyle goes beyond growing your own food and buying locally, it is about the bonding families and friends achieve over farming, gardening, cooking and most importantly eating together.

~It was a good transition to have read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan prior to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, as it provided a more global picture of the industrialization of food with a lot of scientific content; whereas the latter really brought the notion of eating locally to a practical community level. Kingsolver’s shares her practical knowledge of eating locally and provides realistic solutions for urban dwellers to contribute to this so called “movement.”

~The main reason I enjoyed reading this book is that Kingsolver is not preaching to us, rather she is presenting information based on her experience. Furthermore, she is humble enough to recognize that we do not all have the luxury of selling our home and buying a four-acre farm to begin working night and day on our own vegetable, fruit and meat produce. Instead, she shares realistic suggestions for the normal urban dweller on what they can do to help support the "locavore" movement and eat as much local food as possible.


"But meat, poultry and eggs from animals raised on open pasture are the traditional winter fare of my grandparents, and they serve us well here in the months when it would cost a lot of fossil fuels to keep us in tofu....Bananas that cost the rain forest, refridgerated trucked soy milk, and prewashed spionach shipped two thousand miles in plastic containers do not seem cruelty free in this context." (225)

“If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That's not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.” (5)

“If many of us would view this style of eating as deprivation, that's only because we've grown accustomed to the botanically outrageous condition of having everything, always." (65)"I refused to believe a fuel-driven food industry was the only way to feed my family." (346)

"We came to think of ourselves, in the best way, as a family of animals living in our habitat." (335)"Eating locally in winter is easy. But the time to think about that would be in August." (309)

"Our goal had not really been to economize, only to exercise some control over which economy we would support. ... The big savings come from a habit of organizing meals that don't include pricey processed additions." (307)

"I've heard a Buddhist monk suggest the number of food-caused deaths is minimized in steak dinners, which share one death over many meals." (221)

"It's tempting to reach for melons, red peppers, tomatoes, and other late-summer delights before the summer even arrives. But it's actually possible to wait, celebrating each season when it comes, not fretting about its being absent at all other times because something else good is at hand." (65)


The themes present in the book spawned great conversations and discussions ranging from socioeconomic and socio-political aspects of past and present times in relation to the food industry. We all agreed that this book and practically applying it to the meal we enjoyed would make us more conscientious of the food we purchase in terms of locality and season. Here are some of the interesting topics and questions we discussed, sometimes with the utmost passion and concern for the state of the world:

What have you done in the last year to change your personal habits, that when they add up really make a difference?

What plans do you have this winter for eating local or seasonally?

Do you try to eat seasonally, or do you just buy whatever looks good in the store regardless of whether it’s in season locally or had to be shipped in from another hemisphere? Will you change your ways after reading this book?

What’s the thing that bothers you the most about cheap food and how it came to you? Unfair labour wages? Environmental concerns?

How often do you have dinner together with your family? If not often why and do you think it is important?

Do you have many restaurants in your area that support this sort of connection?

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VeggieGirl said...

Wow, what a delectable flavor-loaded post!! Love it.

Bellini Valli said...

So many thought provoking questions Parker. Our local farmers market carries on during the winter months at an indoor recreation crentre. Living in Canada we are of course more limited to what is seasonal during the winter months but there are greenhouses where lettuces and tomatoes are made available to us year round. We also have the possibility of Seasons harvest which is like a CSA type local locally made cheese, yogurts and milk. It is not an ideal climate to try the 100 Mile Diet but we do our best to support our local farmers and producers.

Psychgrad said...

First of all, congratulations on being selected for the 24, 24, 24 event. I like your bookclub. Would you consider it a book-food-club - reading books that focus on food-related issues?

I've been trying to incorporate more local food into our diet along with green products. I'm always looking for more ways of doing this. Thanks for the book recommendation!

Peter M said...

It's tough eating seasonal in Canada but you managed well and we're fortunate to have great shops in this country.

Congrats on getting your 1st 24 dinner knocked out and it's nice to put a face to the blogger (Parker).

Forts said...

Well done the meals looked awesome and tasted even better, love being the sampler, and the discussions that you all apparently had seem to be very positive and helpful as each had done their own research on the topic at hand and put it specifically with the reference to our area. I learned a few more things about local vendors and options. I hope that we ca continue on helping our local community as well as our environment.

And I will say that the vegan 'flaky' I bought at the market was AMAZING!

Cooking nurse said...

It's like me, I will cook it at weekend!

Maria said...

I loved that book. Loved it!! I can't wait to make some of the recipes!

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Well done! I know how tough it is to try and source everything locally. It was hard when I did it for my first 24 post and that was in summer. Welcome to the 24 club:-)

ashley said...

what a great idea! i'm reading this book right now and love it!

Lori said...

Hi Parker,
I absolutely LOVE your post centering on a book and book club! What a great idea!! :)

Jinx said...

I need to start a book club!! We are lucky enough to have several outlets for local produce & meat. One specialty store in town ONLY sells things made here in Wisconsin! You can get cheese, wine, preserves, etc. Enough for a feast or a great gift basket!

(Oh, & I posted a "shaker" tip over on the Martini Blog.)

Jun said...

What a great way to spend the night. Good food, good wine, good beer and good books!

Thank you for the lovely comment. Your 24 post is certainly very exceptionally written

Rachel said...

Great book, great book club idea and great post! I love all the photos of you holding your book and cooking or drinking or eating.

That is a great book by the Kingsolvers. They've inspired me to try making my own cheese sometime soon.

Some fellow food blogger buddies and I have started up an online Foodie book club called Cook the Books if you want to stop by and check it out. We're reading La Cucina by Lily Prior right now and cooking up Sicilian dishes inspired by our reading.

Reeni said...

My Mom and I both loved this book. What a great idea! The food looks fresh and delicious. You did an awesome job!

Heather said...

hi parker, thanks for the comment on my site. he's an australian kelpie! i love barbara kingsolver!

Anonymous said...

You're doing a fantastic job with this passion of yours. I'm inspired!


alexandra's kitchen said...

I love Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. But you forgot to make your soup in a hollowed out pumpkin! tee hee. just kidding. What a beautiful menu.

Kevin said...

Sounds like fun! Just look at all of the tasty food! I like all of that melted cheese in those quesadillas.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations for being selected in the 24,24,24 event. You did a heck of a good job and i like the bookclub theme.

Eating locally and seasonally makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? :-)

Kait said...

I can see why you got chosen for this round of the 24, 24, 24 - great idea and great execution!

Rojario said...

I tried butternut squash soup version. I also added a few more spices like ginger, nutmeg and clove.
Just turned out great. This was really tasty and easy.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a great menu for a party. Very tasty.

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