A soul-warming parsnip-carrot-potato soup and an intention for 2019

Raise your hand if you’re craving warm, hearty, nourishing meals during this time of year. Though it’s been a mild winter so far, it’s nice to have a few easy meal options to whip up on those days when the bitter cold, howling wind, and limited daylight hours encourage taking refuge in the kitchen. 

The calm rhythm of scrubbing, dicing, and mixing 

The spicy aroma of ingredients mulling together on the stove

Getting lost in one’s thoughts while stirring soup

Ladling it into a favourite ceramic bowl before adding a handful of herbs 

The joy of sharing a favourite meal that is equal parts delicious, nourishing, and beautiful 

One of my intentions for the new year is to spend more time preparing food with others. Last fall I started a monthly Sunday night soup club. The idea is that a group of about a dozen friends gathers at a rotating host’s home the last Sunday of each month. The host cooks a large pot of soup, featuring a seasonal ingredient or two, and guests bring something complementary to share, like a hearty loaf of bread, seedy crackers, fruit, or a bottle of wine. We enjoy a slow meal, generative conservation, and good music, and warm our hearts and bellies for the week to come. 

Soup Club has been successful so far, thanks in large part to having access to a bounty of seasonal produce at Karma from which to find inspiration.

Every time I enter Karma during the winter, I head to the produce section to see what beautiful root veg is on offer. I love to use what catches my eye to create simple soups and stews to cook, share, and enjoy during the week (if there are leftovers).

From baskets overflowing with vibrant orange, green, and yellow squash, to jewel-like beets, earthy and grounding, to bright, crunchy multi-coloured carrots, we are lucky to have choices, even in the coldest times of the year.

One root vegetable whose call is sometimes drowned out by more extroverted veggies is the humble parsnip. I like parsnips—their mild but slightly spicy flavour lends itself well to gentle roasting, or a light sauté, perhaps sweetened with a miso-maple syrup glaze. But I often forget about them, drawn to flashier colours and bigger flavours.

After many glances at those parsnips in the corner, I decided it was time to integrate them into a well-loved soup recipe in my household: a zesty root vegetable soup made richer with a bit of peanut butter and coconut milk and enlivened by a generous sprinkle of cilantro and green onions. Bonus: its flavours intensify over time, making this an excellent soup to cook on a Sunday for plenty of weekday leftovers.

Soup Club is a reminder that cooking isn’t just about the end result. It’s also about the process: the slowing down, appreciating the resources and labour that produces ingredients, the conversations that make habitual acts meaningful. 

I hope you’ll give this soup a try! 

The recipe is inspired by the Minimalist Baker’s Creamy Thai Carrot Soup with Basil. https://minimalistbaker.com/creamy-thai-carrot-soup-with-basil/

Serves 8 medium bowls

What you’ll need:

  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2-inch knob fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
  • 2 pounds carrots (scrubbed, peeled, and diced)
  • 1 pound parsnips (scrubbed, peeled, and diced)
  • 1 pound yellow potatoes (scrubbed, peeled, and diced)
  • Pinches Herbamare and pepper, your favourite soup spices (e.g. chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika)
  • 6–8 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter, crunchy or smooth (get it from Karma’s bulk section!)
  • 1 cup coconut milk 

Optional toppings:

  • Fresh cilantro 
  • Chopped green onions
  • More coconut milk, to drizzle
  • Lime wedges
  • Hot sauce (Karma has many options, including Simply Natural sriracha)

How to make it:

1. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat.

2. Add 1 Tbsp coconut oil and let melt, then add curry paste.

3. Finely chop onion, garlic, and ginger. Add to pot, stirring and enjoying the lovely aroma.

4. Add diced carrots, parsnips, and potato, and cook for 5 minutes.

5. Season with a Herbamare and pepper, and any other spices you like. I find a bit of cumin, chili powder, and smoked paprika are nice.

6. Add the stock and stir gently, making sure the vegetables and spices are integrated.

7. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. 

8. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Then turn off the heat and move your pot to a pot-holder.

9. Now the fun part! Grab your immersion blender, and blend the soup until smooth (on low speed). 

10. Whisk the peanut butter and coconut milk in a bowl, then add to the soup pot and blend to combine (on low speed).

11. Return the pot to the stove, over low heat. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. 

12. Prepare your toppings (cilantro, green onion, lime wedges, extra coconut milk, hot sauce) in small bowls.

13. Serve immediately! 

Submitted by Sarah Bradley

The Shelf Elf goes bananas

The Shelf Elf has been busy again, but this time he’s into bananas. He thinks the banana tree, featuring Equifruit bananas — certified by Fairtrade Canada since 2007 — is a particularly nice addition to the store. The attractive Equifruit logo caught his eye, and he decided to investigate further. He discovered that the company was started in Drummondville, Quebec in 2006 by Danielle and Julie Marchessault, mother and daughter respectively. Ownership has since changed, and the team, now headed by Jennie Coleman, has doubled with four women now responsible for most of the Fairtrade bananas imported into Quebec and Ontario. They provide roughly 9 to 13 million bananas annually, or five million pounds. That’s a lot of bananas! Michelle Gubbels, Equifruit’s project manager, explained to me that the four paid members of the company describe themselves as being “passionate about international development, who see Fairtrade as a real alternative to the current exploitative food system.” They are supported by a phalanx of paid event staff who help to spread the word about Fairtrade at events such as the Fairtrade pop-up shop at Karma on Saturday, June 10, or the Buy Good. Feel Good. expo in May. The Shelf Elf loved the pop-up shop, especially the free samples. He thinks you should come next time.

The Equifruit team has been very encouraged by the growth of sales since its inception, particularly in the field of education. There are Fairtrade schools, Fairtrade cities (including Toronto, Edmonton, Barrie, and Vancouver), and perhaps most significantly, Fairtrade university campuses (such as Brock, McGill, Carleton, and Concordia), as well as Fairtrade events, workplaces and faith groups. In each of these contexts, our elven friend learned, becoming Fairtrade-designated involves getting organized, setting goals and making connections between Fairtrade products and the organization.

The Shelf Elf loves a good story, so he asked his new Equifruit friends if they might share a story or two about the banana producers. He watched the documentary Banana Split on the Equifruit blog. It provided background into the unethical relationship between banana growing companies such as the United Fruit Company (known as Chiquita today), and native landholders. After such a tough story, he was looking for some good news. He found it in the story of Victor Marquez. A farmer in Ecuador, he has a daughter attending university in Machala, an opportunity described as unthinkable before fair labour practices changed the life of Victor and his family. The Shelf Elf has many more things to tell you, as he’s a chatty little fellow, but let’s give the last word to the Equifruit team: “People say that organic bananas are a little sweeter and taste creamier than conventional bananas, but we’re in it for that sweet taste of social justice!”

By Sybille Parry

Pfenning’s and the business of organic growing

Farming is a strange business these days. Steeped in tradition and rooted in love of the land, vegetable growing now involves layers of regulations, packaging and brand development, processing infrastructure, logistics, accounting, and supply chain relationships.

We consumers demand vegetables year-round, while southern Ontario fields yield fresh produce for about half that time. And we want clean, crisp, unblemished product, necessitating a mix of washing, packaging, refrigeration, efficient transport, and much product discarded. Hours spent by farmers on the business of selling product is time away from growing and harvesting it.

For over 50 small ecological farmers, one solution is to sell their vegetables to Pfenning’s Organic Farms. Pfenning’s has emerged as a major packer and distributor of organic produce in southwestern Ontario, as well as growing carrots, corn, and peas on 700 acres in New Hamburg, west of Kitchener.

I spoke to Jenn Pfenning, whose parents-in-law, Wilhelm and Barnhild, founded the business. She told me that they immigrated to Canada in 1981, after the fields that Wilhelm’s family had farmed for generations in Germany were expropriated for a new highway overpass. Slowly they formed sales relationships with Ontario’s pioneering health food stores of the time, including Karma.

In the 1990s, their sons Wolfgang and Ekk (Jenn’s husband) took over the farm but shifted from direct sales to a distributor. That distributor did not have a strong connection to the local farm community, so Ontario growers were forced to compete with low-cost California imports even in peak season. Meanwhile, retailers were calling Pfenning’s for local vegetables that distributors didn’t offer.

In 2004, Pfenning’s returned to direct sales, offering their own produce and a little imported product to fill the gaps. The business evolved as other farmers started offering their product at wholesale to sell. Pfenning’s has the infrastructure to store, wash, and pack produce, and sell it under their brand—all operations that require scale.

Pfenning’s does not require contracts or acreage commitments, nor do they set yield expectations for their growing partners. Pfenning’s asks only that their partners record time and materials inputs for fair pricing. They also sell other farmers’ brands, such as HOPE Eco-Farm, so those farmers can minimize their own accounting and logistics work.

Jenn explained that Pfenning’s has a range of import relationships with small family farms and like-minded distributors in California, Florida, and Georgia, but maintains an absolute dedication to local first. The provenance of their vegetables fluctuates, but the bulk are Ontario-grown and over half are from their own fields.

Each summer Pfenning’s hires 25 men from Jamaica (20 per cent of their peak season workforce), under Canada’s seasonal agricultural worker program. Jenn advocates for human rights and better treatment of migrant workers as an integral part of sustainable agriculture.

I visited the centre of operations at Pfenning’s, a huge old barn converted into an industrial-looking packing facility, with warm spacious timber-framed offices taking up much of the second floor. A river of beets and rainbow carrots covered the two conveyor belts that morning as three-person teams sorted and packed them into bags. Bins of brightly coloured vegetables were moved by forklift. Upstairs, there was a quiet buzz from people on phones and computers. Two dogs greeted office visitors. Barnhild, now in her 80s, occupied a recliner near Ekk’s standing desk.

In winter, 40 or so people are employed in the office and warehouse, on packing lines, and driving trucks. Wolfgang and his wife, Regina, live in the house next to the barn, while Ekk and Jenn live across the road. Some of their young adult children work with them. Ekk is the logistics mastermind; he manages import licences and trucking contracts, and arranges deliveries to approximately 100 retailers. It’s a long way from the family’s fields outside of the medieval-era German village where Wilhelm started farming—and not just in a geographical sense.

Amy Stein is writing a series of articles about Karma’s farm-based suppliers.

Read more articles from the spring 2017 issue of Karma’s printed newsletter, The Chronicle.

Not your traditional farmer: Tony Neale of Wheelbarrow Farm

tony-neale-pigs
Photo by Amy Stein

Have you heard this one before? A boy grows up in Toronto, gets a political science degree, and considers a career in social work. But then he takes up farming instead. That’s not a punchline, but rather the story of Tony Neale, owner of Wheelbarrow Farm in Newmarket and one of Karma’s produce and pork suppliers.

Read More