Saturday, March 30, 2013


                  by Fireweed,  for the Island Word, April issue, 2013

March herring spawn- Denman Island, BC, Canada
      Waking up to the ruckus of visiting sea lions is routine in our home at this time of the year (and absolutely preferable to being roused by the neighbourhood roosters!) 
Having arrived in great numbers in anticipation of the annual herring spawn, these massive marine mammals are definitely the official harbingers of spring in this particular corner of creation. Once again, local beaches are glittering with tiny fish eggs and a primordial feast of plenty is nourishing the vast marine environment. Out of every 10,000 eggs laid, just one herring is estimated to miraculously survive to return to spawn and help ensure that the incredible biodiversity of this ecosystem continues to flourish.

             Eggs have always symbolized rebirth and renewal. Whether or not the proverbial chicken came before the egg may still be up for debate, but various traditions linking eggs with the fecundity of springtime certainly existed prior to Christianity. Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, when the scales tip again towards longer days and shorter nights. The increasing daylight we are now enjoying has stimulated the pituitary gland behind the eyes of birds, activating their reproductive cycles. Of course it is the domestic chicken – a hybridized descendant of the jungle fowl in India and Southeast Asia - who produces the colourful eggs associated with springtime and the Easter bunny here in North America today.

     Hens are prompted to lay some 1.3 trillion eggs for human use around the world each year. Extended artificial lighting forces unnatural production levels, and birds that might otherwise live from 10 to 15 years are 'spent' in just twelve to eighteen months. Of the 79 billion eggs produced annually in the US alone, 99% are from birds confined to battery cages. In Canada, 95% of egg layers live in windowless sheds housing on average more than 18,000 birds and sometimes as many as 400,000! Industry regulations require only 67 square inches of space per hen (less than the size of a standard sheet of writing paper).

     A forerunner of today's vast factory farms for a wide variety of animal 'products', the automated battery cage system was devised in the 194O's to maximize profit by producing eggs at the lowest possible cost. This kind of 'efficiency' requires about 2 kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram of eggs. In contrast, so-called 'free-range' eggs still come from birds raised in huge buildings with very little additional room to move, or access to fresh air and natural light. However, it costs 18% more to feed them. Eggs from certified organically-raised hens require feed grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Not only does this make their feed significantly more expensive, these birds also need approximately 20% more food than their caged counterparts. Obviously, we can expect the market niche for pricier eggs to remain very small in the greater scheme of things. As long as the demand for any eggs exists, so will a cheap supply.

     Back-yard chicken-keeping requires the space, time, money and commitment to provide clean housing, good quality feed and fresh water daily, adequate veterinary care and protection from predators. Where I live in the country many folks keep a few chickens on small homesteads, often attracting rats and raccoons. Birds are not infrequently killed by mink or hungry eagles. Occasionally we'll hear of a dog attack or of a bird run over on the road. And there is always someone looking to give away hens they decide they are no longer able or interested in feeding, sheltering or cleaning up after, or roosters they never intended to end up with in the first place. People with limited experience engage in backyard slaughter, even mistaking a chicken's lack of struggle when held in a certain position, as a 'state of calm' (rather than as the 'playing dead' response many animals resort to once they have determined that escape is no longer an option). Longterm commitment is more than what some locavores have bargained for. Primarily in urban environments, this has led to an influx of surrendered birds to many animal sanctuaries. And we don't even need eggs!

     Josh Tetrick, founder and CEO of Hampton Creek Foods, is dedicated to developing and providing affordable alternatives to animal products. His high tech company has created 'Beyond Eggs' to meet both the needs of ethical consumers and the financial bottom line of the enormous food manufacturing industry. Tetrick thinks the solution to inhumane treatment of hens, the serious environmental problems associated with intensive chicken farming (from GHG emissions to toxic run-off), and the serious threat of food-born illnesses, is to take the bird completely out of the equation.

     Indeed, 'Beyond Eggs' has mastered virtually everything an egg can do for baked goods, dressings and sauces, pasta and more- all with plants. It costs less, has a smaller ecological footprint, and achieves stellar taste test results! Innovative new products like these, designed to win over mainstream food producers, may very well help transition society as a whole towards a far more compassionate and sustainable way of feeding nine billion people on a finite planet.

 Fortunately, for those of us with the privilege of choice who enjoy cooking 'from scratch', both pre-packaged egg replacer products and whole foods alternatives are readily available in the produce or baking supply sections of many food stores. Applesauce, mashed banana, and/or flax seeds easily replace eggs in cakes and muffins as healthy 'binders'. And it's baking soda, powder or yeast that typically provides 'the rise' in most baked goods- not eggs. Here's a very easy recipe for fluffy pancakes that uses carbonated water to provide a little extra lift!

Blueberry Pancakes
1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or combination of whole wheat and buckwheat flours )
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup soy, almond or homemade nut milk
1/3 cup carbonated water (club soda or Pellegrino)
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1.5 Tbsp. organic vegetable oil (sunflower, canola, etc)
1/4 cup blueberries (can be added fresh in season, or partially frozen)

Combine all dry ingredients. In another bowl stir together milk, water, sugar and oil. Immediately fold liquid ingredients into the dry, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to combine completely. Gently fold in blueberries.
Only two pancakes at a time on a hot, lightly oiled griddle is best. Flip when bubbling, and the spatula goes underneath easily. Decrease or increase the liquid in this recipe if you prefer thicker or thinner pancakes. Serve with maple syrup and additional berries, or your favorite preserves. Bon appetit!

Bonus Recipe……….
Space is tight in the Island Word where this column appears in shorter form hard copy, so I'm going to squeeze in another egg-free recipe for my online readers here. Of course baked goods are not the only place eggs are used. For other egg-free recipe ideas and more, please visit the column on the right hand side of this page under "April 2013- Related Links"!

Fireweed's Chocolate Cake Supreme
This is my favorite vegan cake for birthdays and special events…rich, moist and made with all organic ingredients- including fair-trade chocolate, of course!

2 cups all purpose organic whole wheat flour
1 cup organic whole wheat pastry flour (or you could just use 3 cups all purpose flour)
3/4 cup of organic cocoa powder (I use Cocoa Camino)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cup organic brown sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 cups water
2 teaspoons organic vanilla
1 cup organic sunflower oil
2 ripe organic bananas

Lightly oil two round cake pans and flour the sides to avoid sticking (or whatever shape of pan you choose to use). You can also cut rounds of parchment paper for the bottom to help release your cake later. 

Turn oven on to 350 degrees F.

Mix together all dry indredients (making sure to break up any lumps that can sometimes form with brown sugar) until thoroughly combined. In a blender place your bananas, water, oil, vinegar and vanilla… only turn on after securing the lid (note to self!Once well blended, pour these wet ingredients directly into the bowl containing your dry ingredients and stir the two together with a spatula, scraping down the sides of the bowl and pressing out any lumps on the side of the bowl.

Once your batter is smooth, immediately pour one half into each of your two pre-prepared cake pans, and place both on the same rack in your pre-heated 350 degree oven. Bake for thirty minutes before testing with a toothpick or sharp knife. If it doesn't come out clean, give the cake up to another ten minutes. It should spring back to the touch.

Note: If you decide you want to make this cake in one rectangular pan, give it about 50 minutes, and again, check to make sure it's baked all the way through before removing from the oven and cooling on a cookie rack. Gently go around the outside of the pan with a knife to avoid any sticking before removing cake from pans for frosting.
Refrigerating this cake before icing it helps avoid damaging the soft surface. Apply a semi-firm vegan frosting of your choice. Less chocolate means a lighter background to accentuate your darker decoration (and is less expensive!)  I combine melted chocolate with organic powdered sugar and coco (coconut) butter with a dash of vanilla, then add a little nut milk to achieve desired spreadability for my base coat. You can make your own powdered sugar with organic unbleached white sugar in a coffee grinder.

For a decorative effect like the one you see directly above and below, melt more organic chocolate in a double boiler on your stovetop, then add some kind of non-dairy milk to thin the hot, melted chocolate…you can use soy, almond or rice milk, or a homemade nut milk. Keep stirring to thoroughly blend. For the cake in the photo I also melted in a little coco butter for a thicker consistency, but a thin drizzle of dark chocolate makes a very pretty pattern too. 

This technique is fun, but does take a little practise…use a spoon and test your melted chocolate mixture on a plate before heading for the cake! If it's still too thick to flow off the spoon add a bit more milk. Refrigerate right away to firm up your artwork, but serve at room temperature to soften the icing. 

The cake I included a photo of at the top of this recipe was decorated with a thin chocolate icing (not just melted chocolate)…it's pretty, but a lot more time consuming with messy piping bags and nozzles, than the quick drizzle effect!

If you are on Facebook, visit my Cakes & Catering page by clicking HERE for additional decorating ideas. 

Bon appetit!

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