Monday, September 15, 2014

Alberta Canola: Fall Harvest at the Moser Farm

It's not everyday that you see a city girl like me out on a farm. Last week I was invited out by the Alberta Canola Producers Commission to visit the farm of one of the many producers of Canola here in the province.

Jack and Sharon Moser own a farm in Killam, Alberta, which is about two hours outside of Edmonton. On 4000 acres of land they produce barley, wheat and canola. When I think of the Alberta prairies, the picture that comes to mind is a bright field of yellow canola under a blue, cloudless sky. While the weather during the visit last week wasn't exactly ideal, the Mosers were amazing hosts and they graciously invited a small group of food bloggers and writers out to their farm so that we could get a sense of what it is like to farm and harvest canola.

One thing I was really looking forward to exploring was this school bus. A few years ago the Mosers purchased this bus and converted it into a vehicle that they use on their farm annually during the month-long harvest. Now this is no ordinary school bus. Rather than transporting people, it transports dinner out into the fields for the hard workers that harvest canola.

Every night that there are people working out in the fields, Sharon cooks up a hearty meal and loads it onto the bus. Meal time is at about 5:30PM and I'm sure that the bus driving into the field is welcomed sight by the workers. Meals can be anything that she would cook up for her own family. Beef and potatoes with gravy, lasagna, and fresh baked bread are just some of the things that are served up family style on the bus. Over the years the interior of the bus has been decorated by all who have had the opportunity to dine inside of it. Decals, souvenirs from abroad and signatures in Sharpie are found on the walls and really gives this place a personality of its own.

Aside from the decorations the interior of the bus is very different from your typical school bus. The back of the bus is outfitted with a sink where everyone is able to wash up before dinner. The traditional brown seats have been rearranged to face one another and a table is fitted in between. As there are usually about 5-7 workers harvesting canola, only two tables are required for seating during dinner. The remainder of the space houses two comfortable couches for relaxation during the break. For the Mosers it is really important to eat together like a family even during the busy harvest season. This converted school bus ensures that everyone can be together out of the elements to dine and relax partway through the work day.

To get the full harvest experience everyone was treated to lunch on the bus. Chef Blair Lebsack of RGE RD was on site with his team and prepared an amazing meal using seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. We started off with the Edible Farm Salad, where 90% of the produce is from Edible Acres Farm. Alongside the salad greens were a beet antipasto, marinated cucumber, tomatoes and a pork terrine featuring the pigs raised by Natures Green Acres.

The mains during lunch were served up buffet style, just as they would be served by Sharon on the bus. Beef compression, potato pave and wood fired root vegetables and squash comprised the bulk of our meal, and every bite was delicious. Everything was flavourful and I loved that the beef compression was nearly identical in resemblance to a brownie.

We were all lucky enough to be served dessert with our lunch, and this maple verrine with whiskey gelee and oat streusel was light and ended the meal on a high note. Look out for this dessert on the menu at RGE RD during the cooler months ahead.

The day was ended with an quick, hands-on educational session about canola. Each of us received a paper towel with rows of whole canola seeds taped to it. After being told that a canola seed is 46% oil, we crushed the seeds with a roller and released the oils that are contained within the seed coat. The material left behind is canola meal which is often sold as feed for animals. Studies have shown that dairy cows that are fed canola meal can produce up to 1 litre more milk per day compared to cows that feed on different food. Pretty neat! Other fun canola facts:

  • Canola is part of the Brassica family - mustard, cabbage and cauliflower are also Brassicas
  • Canola seed is Canada's third largest grain export
  • Canola oil has the lowest level of saturated fat - it is a heart healthy oil!

What I thought would be a long drive for lunch turned out to be a really fun daylearning about a valuable crop produced in the Canadian prairies. I learned so much about canola and am grateful to have met dedicated producers like the Mosers working day in and out! I have to send a huge thank you to the Alberta Canola Producers Commission for inviting me out to the farm, and to Sharon and Jack Moser for being amazing hosts! And of course thanks to Blair Lebsack and his team for an outstanding meal as usual.

If you're ever interested in checking out your local farm in Alberta, check out Alberta Open Farm Days where you can learn where your food comes from. Open farm days are over for 2014 but I encourage you to search locally for farm tours or wait for the 2015 event! It is so great to learn about your local producers and support them in all that they do.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

When Random Cuisines Collide: Pho Huong & Mama Pizza

Sometimes when I read restaurant names I have to do a double take. That's exactly what happened when I discovered a local restaurant advertising that they serve both pizza and Vietnamese food. Say what?

Pho Huong & Mama Pizza - 10531 107 Avenue - Edmonton AB

I was so curious to see whether this place was any good, and I was actually interested in trying their pho. Now I know what you're thinking - I must be crazy to think this restaurant would serve top notch pho! But hey, someone has to take one for the team, right?

I was able to convince one of my friends to go on this adventure with me so we showed up at the restaurant at about 6PM on a weeknight. Bad news, the place was empty. We were greeted and seated in the corner before our server ran off and hid in the kitchen. The restaurant itself looked small and, like a typical Vietnamese restaurant, had sriracha, hoisin sauce and other condiments available on the table. The menu was mostly devoted to Vietnamese noodles and soups, but a whole page was dedicated to a wide variety of pizzas, salads, burgers and fries. It's the strangest thing, but it apparently works for the loyal patrons of this restaurant!

My friend ordered the Grilled Pork & Spring Roll Vermicelli Bowl (#24, $8.75) and it was a fairly generous serving. The vermicelli noodles were cooked al dente and served overtop of the usual fresh greens like lettuce, cucumber and sprouts. The grilled pork was moist, tender and full of flavour, while the spring rolls were crisp and golden. Things were off to a good start!

Most of the pho offerings on the menu ranged between $7.50-$8.50 depending on the choice of meat and size of the bowl. For myself I was craving pho with beef balls and tripe - a combination that rarely exists on Vietnamese menus. However, the restaurant was more than willing to accommodate my request so I got exactly what I wanted. The bowl of noodle soup really didn't look like much, but the broth was fragrant with a nice depth of flavour and was served steaming. Although I would have liked a bit more tripe in my bowl, this bowl of pho would definitely hit the spot on cold day.

Pho Huong & Mama Pizza is a family-run business and our server (who I believe was the owner) was very friendly and inviting. The restaurant is located in an area of the city that is a little more run-down, but appearances can definitely be deceiving. The interior of the restaurant is updated and well kept, and almost seems to be out of place given it's location. If I were in the area and craving Vietnamese, I wouldn't hesitate to drop by for a quick meal. I'm a little curious about the pizza - who knows, it could be a chance worth taking on my next visit!

Pho Huong & Mama Pizza on Urbanspoon