For Love of Onions

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 12:51 pm

It used to be there were just a few onions carefully rotating themselves each week in my root vegetable basket forming a beautiful symbiosis with the potatoes, parsnips, turnips and beetroot residing within.  Together, they made beautiful, mouth-watering dishes with a mere dollop of butter and a slow roast in the oven.

But that was winter, and this summer there’s been a steady supply of onions, the quality of which has been amazing. I should also add – they’ve been accumulating all by themselves and filling the basket to overflowing. My initial reaction was to move the basket to conspicuous locations (beside the stove, near the window, in the middle of the kitchen table) in the hope that I would be duly inspired, but this backfired.  They began to remind me how much I hated them as a child, and I started to use them less often and in smaller quantities – more like a bit of flavouring than an actual vegetable.  I became disappointed every time I saw a box with another small pile of onions at the bottom of it.

Then it all changed.  I was forwarded an email from Alicia – the amazing lady who looks after all the grocery section of the biz – who extolled many virtues of onions including: laughing at them, sharing them with friends and neighbours, leaving them in a swap box at your food host location and pickling them to give as gifts.  I was impressed with the array of options available to the non-onion eater and it served as a bit of a wake-up call…. I actually don’t hate onions! In fact I like them, and I LOVE to cook.  I began to see the error of my ways and made moves to embrace my renewed relationship with the allium.

Here are some of the best things I have done with onions in the last few months:

Tortilla Espanol – easily uses 2 large onions and a whack of potatoes (if those are your “bug bear”). Learned while living in Spain several years ago and re-learned again thanks to a recent tortilla competition when I realised I had lost my edge… and got it back.

Ingredients: Olive oil – 2 onions, thinly sliced – 5 potatoes, thinly sliced – 5 cloves garlic, minced – 6 eggs – salt and pepper to taste

Over a low flame, pre-heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a nonstick pan and gently cook the onions until they begin to caramelize.

Add the garlic and cook for 5 mins more.

Drain the onion and garlic mixture, reserving the olive oil, and set aside.

Put the oil back in the pan and add the sliced potatoes in batches (you can directly slice the potatoes into the pan – or pre-slice and add them a little at a time) so that you have some really soft potatoes and some firm ones.  Once the last potatoes are almost cooked, add the reserved onions and garlic and combine in the pan.

Beat the eggs with the salt and pepper (you could add any number of herbs and spices – paprika works nicely) and pour over the potato mixture.

Cook without stirring until the top is almost set.  Then cover with a dinner plate and flip it over quickly.  Slide it back into the pan and cook for a few minutes until it is completely set.  It’s done!  Flip it back out onto a plate and serve hot or cold with a baguette.

The secret to this recipe is to cook everything as slowly as possible and don’t be afraid to use much more olive oil than you might be comfortable with.

Cough Syrup – slice an onion, soak it in honey for a day.  Spoon it into a coughing mouth – works wonders (credit goes to my partner Mel the Naturopath, for both introducing me to this one, and preparing it).

Eggplant, Mushroom and Spinach Pie – I don’t actually know what to call this, I just made it up last night. It’s based on Banitsa (pronounced with a thick Bulgarian accent), which is a dish that a very good Bulgarian friend of mine makes. This dish is mostly cheese and eggs… wonderful.  Actually, this is nothing like her Banitsa, but when I asked her how to make it vegan and she said to uses lots and lots of onions.

Ingredients: 4 onions diced – 10 cloves garlic, minced – olive oil – 150g mushrooms, chopped – 1 eggplant, peeled and chopped – 1 tsp sea salt – 1 Tbsp oregano – 400g spinach leaves – 1/4 cup kalamata olives, diced – 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes (optional) – 1 Tbsp dried rosemary, crushed – 375g ricotta cheese – 1/2 package filo pastry

Over medium flame, fry the onions until soft, add the mushrooms and garlic – cook until mushrooms release their liquid.  Add the eggplant and salt and cook until just soft.  Set aside.

Wilt the spinach in a pan, covered with a little water (I used the juice from the olives) for about a minute or 2. Drain, roughly chop and place in a bowl with the olives, yeast flakes, rosemary and ricotta.  Mix well.

Lightly coat a baking dish with olive oil. Add a sheet of filo and brush with oil. Layer 2 sheets at a time coating every second sheet lightly with olive oil until you have at least 8 sheets covering the bottom of the dish, leaving the top layer un-oiled.  Spread the onion-eggplant mixture evenly over the pastry. Layer 2 more sheets of pastry on top without oil.  Spread the spinach ricotta mixture on top, then finish with 6-8 more sheets of filo pastry – oiling every second sheet including the top one.

Bake at 190 degrees for 40 minutes.  Cool for at least 10 mins and serve.

I’ve strayed a long way from the original onion-filo base. Last night I made a crazy version with ricotta, spinach and lots of veg while still using at least 4 onions…I’m almost out of onions and I still have 3 days before I get another CERES Fair Food box!

You can purchase brown and/or red onions as an extra from our online shop, even just to have a few around to give to your friends.

SLF 2012: a cook off, Costas and cudos

Monday, February 27th, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Last Sunday Jesse, a few wondrous Food Hosts (Emily, Alissa, Tina & Charmaine) and myself braved the heat and crowds at the 2012 Sustainable Living Festival to educate ‘eaters’ about food box schemes and how they can play an important part in addressing our food security and sustainability issues by better supporting ‘growers.’

We got an amazing reception at the Mystery Box Challenge, where “making a meal of sustainable surprises” was the order of the day. Chef Sandie Hernandez added a generous serving of his own inspiration to cook three beautiful dishes with the contents of our donated food basket.

As the clouds parted and people got stuck into their lunches, Costas Georgiadis (ABC celebrity gardener, in case you don’t know him) spoke passionately – in his bearded wisdom – about the Supermarket price wars and how the massive power imbalance in the trade of fresh produce in Australia is hurting farmers. He advanced an argument for revering our food producers more than we do celebrities.

He even got Jesse talking to everyone at The World’s Biggest Organic Feast long table about why we do what we do. After that plug we were bombarded with questions about “how the scheme works?”

It is really difficult to convey all the ways in which buying from CERES Fair Food benefits the community and the environment in 20 seconds flat. But our volunteers did an amazing job, speaking from experience, giving their own reasons for joining the Fair Food Movement.

I’d like to thank those who came to visit us at our stall on the banks of the Yarra. And our attendant Food Hosts for generously giving their Sunday to take an enthusiastic crowd through the reasons why they also volunteer their premises once a week.

Food Hosts are a group of dedicated change agents ensuring our members can connect with like-minded people, enact the values of environmentally responsible consumption, support farming families and socially excluded workers, while conveniently accessing affordable, fresh and fair organic produce.

It’s a tall order but I think we’re doing a fab job working together.

New fab ‘n’ fresh organic food box delivery locations

Monday, February 20th, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Welcome and thank you to the following volunteer Food Hosts for offering their premises.

Rebecca at Tanti St, Cheltenham – Tues 5-7pm
Liz at Frederick St, Brunswick – Tues 5-8pm
Mike at Collins St, Docklands – Thurs 3-7pm
Mel at Peterson Ave, Coburg North – Thurs 6-8pm

Click here to sign up and get your organic food delivered to one of these convenient Melbourne locations.

Calling all Ripponleans

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

We need you!

Our wonderful Food Host in Ripponlea is being forced to close due to their landlord taking issue with the box pick ups.

If you live in the area and are keen to volunteer, please contact our Food Host Coordinator Jesse at foodhosts@ceresfairfood.org.au or by calling on (03) 8673 6273.

Thanks for your support.

The Fair Food Team

 

Sustainable Living Fest – Here we come!

Monday, February 13th, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Come down to the beautiful banks of the Yarra to play, learn and share just about anything related to eco-friendly living.

CERES Fair Food will be there on Sunday 19th for the “World’s Biggest Organic Feast” to be hosted by Costa Georgiadis, from ABC Tv’s Gardening Australia. Come meet the people behind your food boxes, some of our dedicated and wonderful Food Hosts, chat about any number of ethical food-related topics and grab a yummy apple to keep you on the go.

Sustainable Living Festival, 2012, World's Biggest Organic Feast

This event brings growers into the limelight. So come “meet the farmer” and get a blow-by-blow account of how organic fruit and vegetables make it from the paddocks onto your plate.

Date: Sun 19 Feb
Time: 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Venue: Food Village, Birrarung Marr

For more info visit the listing in the program guide or SLF 2012 at www.festival.slf.org.au

Stack it high, sell it cheap by Chris Ennis

Friday, February 10th, 2012 at 1:07 pm

The price wars of big supermarkets are not only destroying farming families, they’re revealing a community willing to sacrifice animal welfare, healthy land and good food quality just to save a dollar.

Supermarket price wars are killing local primary producers

What is it about cheap food that blinds us? What’s going on in our heads that lets us pay a premium for a smart phone or designer label clothes, but with food we want the absolute cheapest?

Over decades our spending habits have told food retailers we love cheap chicken, eggs and pork. In miserable indoor animal factories chickens and pigs are bred, fed and medicated to grow and lay at the fastest possible rate to deliver the cheapest ‘product’. The resulting industry is so concentrated that a few large companies control everything, from prices to farmer to the breed of chook that can be farmed.

Beautifully packaged for us on the shelves of our local Coles or Woolworths, the curtain is firmly shut on how the products of industrial agriculture arrive so cheaply in our shopping trolleys. If we had to buy our bacon and eggs directly from a confined animal operation, could we honestly front the huge array of fattening pens and laying cages, and look brutalised animals and an underpaid farmer in the eye while we hand over a pittance for the ingredients for our Sunday breakfast?

To keep costs down to make our $1 a litre milk possible, the milk factory can legally mix in up to 12 per cent waste permeate to full cream milk. Permeate is the waste product from manufacturing low fat milks. Milking cows are bred to be more productive and selected for larger and larger udders. There’s a limit before a cow’s udder painfully stretches to cause greater rates of mastitis and other infections requiring drugs to maintain the cow’s ability to produce milk fit for human consumption.

Low milk prices means only the dairy farmers with ‘super-herds’ of up to 1000 cows can maintain a viable business, which explains why 30 Queensland dairy farmers walked off their farms in the last 12 months. It is impossible for a young dairy farmer to buy their own farm without taking on enormous debt.

Similarly the effect of an 80 cent iceberg is felt from the local fruit and veg shop, right back to the farm. When the two big supermarkets halve the price of lettuce, the independent supermarkets and local fruit and veg shops must follow and the call goes down the supply chains to all lettuce farmers to drop the price on iceberg.

There’s no award wage for a farmer; they simply work more for less money.  To grow more lettuces more cheaply on the same bit of land, soils are worked harder and harder, fertility drops and more salt-based fertilisers are added to compensate. The weak plants growing in depleted soil need more sprays to protect them from pests and diseases, therefore more excess nitrogen and pesticide residues wash off farms and into creeks, rivers and oceans. The unintended results are polluted waterways, wildlife deaths, algal blooms and dead zones in estuaries.

Since the 1970s Australia has lost 40-50,000 farmers and now the age of the average farmer is well over 50. What son or daughter wants to take over the family farm when they see their parents and grandparents working for less and less and not being able to look after themselves, their health, their soils or their animals humanely? The more we squeeze farmers, the more they leave the farm or take their own lives in despair.  When there’s no one left to take over the farm what are we going to eat – supplements?

The government and the ACCC need to step in and stop the predatory pricing practices of Coles and Woolworths. As consumers we need to start thinking beyond our wallets and start buying the meat, milk and produce we know is grown humanely, sustainably and bought at a fair price from a local retailer. We need to reconnect with the people who grow our food so that it becomes inconceivable to buy food that requires people, animals and the land to be sacrificed.

There are convenient and affordable options allowing us to get closer to where our food comes from. Talk to your local fruit shop owner about where they get their produce from and why. Find a local online ethical food box delivery scheme. Join or start a neighbourhood food co-op. Shop at farmers markets.  And to really, really reconnect we can grow our own food, keep some animals at home and become farmers ourselves.

Originally published by Online Opinion a not-for-profit e-journal providing a forum for public social and political debate about current Australian issues.

Be a Stallholder at the CERES Annual Harvest Festival

Monday, February 6th, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Celebrating and giving thanks to the good earth, our farmers and the cycle of the seasons

The next annual Autumn Harvest Festival will take place on Saturday 31 March 2012 at CERES Community Environment Park.

Across our ten acre site there will be a range of activities and events that celebrate our community, our environment and our sustainable food systems.

CERES will also host a Harvest Festival Market, proving local people and businesses with an affordable, ethical and friendly way of promoting their produce and products within the village atmosphere of CERES.

Would you like to take part?

We are looking for stall holders who are:

  • Businesses who support or work within sustainable food systems in Australia
  • Groups or businesses who work more broadly within the values of community, environment and sustainability
  • Local artisans who produce handmade goods
  • Second-hand sellers
  • Other not-for-profit community organisations.

We ask that fresh fruit and vegetables are not sold on individual stalls and are instead sold through our existing organic market and Meet-the-Farmer circle.

If you are interested in taking part in the Meet-the-Farmer circle, please contact Market Manager Kate Anderson on 9389 0123 or market@ceres.org.au.

Why you should get involved?

A stall at the CERES 2012 Autumn Harvest Festival provides an excellent opportunity to reach the CERES community. We’re anticipating our biggest turn-out ever this year, with the whole site being used for this event. We will be promoting and advertising the festival in the media, online and directly to CERES members and supporters. The entire CERES site will be open to the public with free entry and some of the features of the day we will be promoting include:

  • Free live music
  • Multicultural food stalls and tastings
  • Large farmers’ market and meet-the-farmer events
  • Green technology demonstrations
  • Artists market
  • Free talks and demonstrations on food production and cooking, preserving, plant propagation and a range of other environmental topics.
  • Kids’ activities
  • Harvest banquet with special guest Matthew Evans, the host of Gourmet Farmer on SBS.

For more information about pricing, terms & conditions, please download this pdf: Autumn_Harvest-Festival_stallholder_callout_2012

Or visit the main ceres.org.au website.

Calling for action on unfair supermarket duopoly

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Food Connect & CERES Fair Food release a joint media statement calling the ACCC to better regulate the supermarket duopoly in Australia for the good health of our local food systems.

While the ‘big two’ continue to sting consumers with price increases twice that of core inflation rates, farming families are being driven from their noble and invaluable profession in droves: a consequence of unfair wholesale prices offered by Coles and Woolworths. Despite ACCC claims to the contrary, it seems the duopoly are boosting their profit margins during these hard times – using undue market influence to extort eaters & growers alike?

MediaRelease_LocalPlayersCallforFairFood

It’s for reasons such as this that we do what we do.

We believe in making healthy, eco-friendly & ethical food easy, affordable and convenient to buy – so we can all be responsible consumers!