Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stellar Seeds - STELLAR PEOPLE!!!

I am in love with Stellar Seeds. And below is the story of this new love affair of mine!

(Before you read on - Stellar Seeds packets fit PERFECTLY into Christmas stockings and Christmas cards! And you might just find the perfect seeds for a Secret Santa gift, too! Flip through their catalogue and order soon to get them in time for the holidays!)

Aptly named "Stellar Seeds" - 2011 Catalogue

Readers of this blog will know that I'm a stalwart supporter of West Coast Seeds. My family grew up with "Territorial Seeds", locally grown untreated vegetable and flower seeds. And then at some point, there was this big schism in the company - Territorial Seeds went one way (to the dark side of genetic modification (GMO), pesticides, all the yucky stuff we didn't like; at least, that's what I remember) and "West Coast Seeds" as we know it today was born! Untreated, organic, non-GMO seed - the way nature intended and coincidentally the way I like it!
(Incidentally, I thought Territorial Seeds kept their name, but then I vaguely recollect old seed packets in the same style but with "PNW (Pacific Northwest) Seeds" on them. I found a link here saying that Abundant Life Seeds in Oregon is now a sister company to Territorial Seeds since it was destroyed by fire in 2003! Yikes. Ooh, more gossip here! My my! Some very unhappy customer service stories, too!)

West Coast Seeds has so much to offer, so I've never felt the urge to stray. But then I started hearing murmurs in the gardens about Stellar Seeds - an equally positive BC company with all the right values and some pretty gnarly (in the good sense!) seeds. My friend Sarah and her gardening guru family used Stellar Seeds, and I had probably already reaped the rewards in plant swaps (it's likely the tomatillos and broccoli Sarah sent my way were Stellar stock).

I love Stellar Seeds! Visit their site and buy some great seed!

But then last year I went to the urban agriculture exhibit at the MOV, and they handed out some Stellar Seeds as freebies (through Farm Folk, City Folk). I grew some lovely lettuces and Latah tomatoes and Stellar Seeds was on my purchasing radar!

And then the big moment, where I realised that I needed to blog about Stellar Seeds and share my MARVELLOUS experience!

I'm actively resisting the temptation to start those Isis Candy tomatoes in December....

In the interest of my personal privacy, I can't give much in the way of details. I volunteer for an outreach group with at-risk teens. And I was buying some seeds to share with them (as well as my own balcony!), when I thought to ask in the "additional comments" field of the Stellar Seeds order form if they would be interested in sending a few packets of leftover/expired seeds as a donation to our little group (I will be teaching all about urban agriculture this spring! I'm so excited!!). And I did the same for my West Coast Seeds order.

Colleen AND Patrick, who I will later discover are the family that owns and runs Stellar Seeds, both email me and say that they are more than happy to send some freebies as a donation, that they believe in what I'm trying to accomplish (instilling a passion for gardening, urban food production, and connectedness with the earth in these kids from the inner city), and they both leave me with encouraging words on top of an offer of seed donation!

and then we had a back & forth conversation after this. :) LOVELY lovely people!

(and then some MORE encouragement with my shipment!)  <3

Contrast this to West Coast Seeds. Now I've only ever had good experiences with the WCS folk (I'm also rather fond of them! Great seeds, too), but you can see clearly the contrast between a small, family-run company out of Kaslo, BC (Stellar Seeds) and a larger company with stringent policies and what-have-you in Greater Vancouver. WCS also seem to be pleased to entertain my request, but I had to fill out a form, send a letter on our letterhead, give our charity number, prove that I know what I'm doing enough with the seeds to not fail miserably (and thus reflect badly on the company, I suppose), and show photos of my plan or past projects. I returned a polite "thank you anyway - we're too small to have a registered charity number or letterhead and we're too new for past successful projects, so catch you next time" email. That email was responded to, asking me to please submit what I did have, and they'll consider my request with the others at year-end.

The follow-up email - nothing at all like the Stellar Seeds customer service, eh?

So all-in-all, I can't complain much about the WCS service. We'll see if anything came of all of that time and effort on my end!

But it doesn't really matter if WCS comes through or not, 'cause Colleen & Patrick, my two new favourite people, sent us a great bounty of seeds of all varieties! I asked for a packet or two of something they had in excess that they thought would work well for our purposes, and they sent vegetable seeds, herb seeds, flower seeds, everything!

Just as polished as the big guys, but are small guys! SUCH NICE PEOPLE!

You just cannot hope for better customer service from your seed company than what you get at Stellar Seeds!

WHOA! What a haul! The shipping box was even reused (cracker box!). Green and generous - STELLAR IS STELLAR!

Now please don't take this as a cue to beg for free seeds from them (if you want free seeds that badly, ask me! I'm sure we'll have excess now ourselves! What amazing generosity from Stellar!); their prices are VERY good and their seeds are just lovely so make sure you buy some!

 Some of the awesome seeds we've been blessed with that I can't wait to try (and I'm hoping the kids will feel the same way!):

Dragon's Tongue bush bean
Toma Verde tomatillos (it's been awhile, and they were awesome back in 2001 or whenever it was!)
Dragon purple carrot (I think these are going to wow the teens!)
Red Kuri squash
Chervil (never tried this before!)
Mild Mesclun mix (and a bunch of other greens, too! Won't these be great in an edible hanging basket?!)
Antoji "Defecting Acrobat" Romanian pepper (follow link to read up on the acrobat comment!)
Pink and Purple Poppies


THANK YOU COLLEEN AND PATRICK! May good commercial karma find its way back to you, you lovely people!

And may everyone who reads this blog purchase Stellar Seeds for 2012!

Please visit the Stellar Seeds website (seed packets fit into Christmas cards!):

Not into online shopping? (Really? 'Cause it's super convenient and fun!) - You can purchase Stellar Seeds the old-fashioned way (in person!) at these retail locations:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fighting Hunger - for Free

Tonight, 1 billion people will go to bed hungry and underfed. And I'll bet that you, like me, turned down a second helping or saved room for dessert at dinner! It's not to make you feel badly or guilty - it's to show the contrast between "us" and "them".

Just as 1 billion go to bed hungry, you and I are 2 of the 1 billion people who are online who can help even out this enormous discrepancy.

And you don't even have to donate money to help (though I encourage you to donate what little you can! More on this later!).

For FREE, you can go to the World Food Programme's website and take The Hunger Quiz. It's very short and interactive, and when you complete it, a meal will be donated to a hungry child (an anonymous donor has agreed to give a meal for each quiz completed!).

That was quick and easy, wasn't it? Just five questions! And maybe you learned that the WFP can feed a child for 25 CENTS per day! Or that most of the world's hungry are in Asia and the Pacific (about 1/2 a billion people! Next is Africa, then S. and Central America, by population). Did you know a school child can be fed on just $50 per year? How much was your last grocery bill? Will that last you all year? Not a chance! Incredible to think about the differences, isn't it? Your food bill probably doesn't constitute 80% of your income, either. Crazy thoughts.

There are other quizzes from the WFP that are just as short and sweet:

Each of these also cause the anonymous donor to donate a meal to a child (I'm really curious to learn the identity of that anonymous philanthropist! I suspect it's Bono, but that's not based on anything apart from the fact I saw a photo of him somewhere on the WFP site!).

Did you rock those quizzes? Well done! Here's another morsel for the mind: you may have learned from one of the WFP quizzes that approximately 2000 calories per day is what the average adult requires to maintain their health. 400 of those calories are needed to run your brain! That's 20% of your food intake! And yet your brain only takes up 2% of your body's mass!

So - let's put your dinner to work and fight hunger around the world via the Power of Your MIND! (Sounds creepy, doesn't it? Keep reading - all will soon be clear!) donates 10 grains of rice for each correct response to a multiple choice vocabulary question. For example,

"Expensive" means:
a) last
b) untrue
c) costly
d) bad

So you click "costly", and magically 10 new grains of rice are added to your virtual donation rice bowl! How easy is that? The questions become increasingly difficult as you progress (your "level" out of 60 is posted at the bottom of the screen), so not only will you be helping to feed people for free, you'll also be broadening your personal lexicon. (I can't make it past level "50" - please do comment on this post if you beat it! It's a challenge in which everyone wins!)

There's one more easy way to give food for free (and it's the EASIEST OF THEM ALL!):
Visit The Hunger Site and click on the "Click to Give Free Food" button. I did - nothing weird happens, you just get to donate food!

Click - feed! That's it! (Tell your friends!).

And that concludes the "Fighting Hunger for Free" segment of this post. If I think of any other ingenious solutions that even the most broke student can manage, I'll post them here!

But in the meantime, here are a few things I do to help feed others:

Please tear off one of these and add them to your groceries! I do it every time.

  • At Safeway and IGA Marketplace, there are often "BC Sharing Coupons" mounted on the customer's side of the tills. They come in $2 denominations, and you can simply tear one off and place it on your groceries to make a donation to your local food bank. I DO THIS EVERY TIME I GROCERY SHOP - you can too! $2 doesn't add all that much to a bill (and I've saved at least that several times over by reading the online flyers and shopping wisely anyway!), but over a year it adds up to a sizeable donation. True, you don't get a tax receipt, but that $2 can go so far to purchase fresh produce or dairy for needy families right here in our own community. ALWAYS give to your local food bank. One day you may find yourself reliant on such help - give to the others who need assistance when you can.
  • Sponsor a child. Regular readers of my blog may have noticed my "Sponsorship Quiz - Help Me Choose" widget disappeared when I switched to this new dynamic view thing on Blogger. My husband and I each support a child, through two different organizations. Even on our limited budget, we can cover the combined $60 a month to make sure our friends in Botswana and in Bangladesh have financial support through the aid organizations that are helping their respective villages. $60 is nothing, nothing at all when you see what it provides for two young girls and their families. A few of the many sponsorship charities: World Vision, SOS Children's Villages, Plan, Feed the Children, Compassion Canada . . . there's so many, have a look to find the one that best suits you, or you can read about some of them on my previous post here.
  • Donate to the World Food Programme during famines, and even (perhaps especially) when there aren't. I donated when I heard of the famine in the Horn of Africa this year. Then our church had a special offering for it, so I donated again. Then the Government of Canada said it would match all donations - I donated yet again. I don't miss that money, and I LOVED the fact that my relatively small sum was doubled to something much more substantial. Take full advantage of these 'matching' schemes whenever you hear of them - even if you just give a little, it'll go twice as far!
  • Smart Gift Shopping. Christmas is coming up QUICKLY! Here are some sites that work to resolve hunger around the world:
    • FEED: You may recognize the "FEED 100" reusable shopping bags sold at Whole Foods Markets and Capers a few years back. But there are so much more great "FEED" gifts - including Clairins cosmetics, gorgeous scarves, bracelets, all sorts of cases and bags (very stylish!). Oh my goodness, you can even buy a "FEED" Christmas stocking! If you want to make a statement, or get something uber trendy, shop at FEED!
    • The Hunger Site (The Rainforest Site - Hunger): honestly, there's just so much of everything and anything for sale on this site (even fair trade and recycled - check it out!). I challenge you to NOT find the perfect gift for just about everyone on your list here! Their inventory is jaw-dropping, and some of the gifts are truly innovative.
    • ShopAgainstHunger. Also through the WFP, you can shop the 'mall' of featured merchants (Adidas, Sony, Avon, Verizon, CaseLogic,,, etc.) or browse by category (and we're talking about virtually everything here! Baby, Auto, Electronics, Home & Garden, Apparel, Travel - you name it!). When you shop via the "Shop Against Hunger Mall", donations of food are automatically made through the WFP. So if you want to buy someone a new pair of soccer cleats, or an iPAD, or even winter tires - it all helps to bring food to those who can't imagine the luxury of online shopping. Make your shopping do more - shop via Shop Against Hunger!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gregor the Green Go-Getter Returns!

Congratulations, Gregor Robertson on your resounding win!

Congrats also to Adriane Carr of the Green Party! I voted for you, too! Hooray! One thought though - I had no idea you were running! I only saw your name on the ballot and changed my plan on the spot! Perhaps a little more advertising next round, yes?

Congrats to the Vision Vancouver team, too. I like you. I think you do a great job. So does most of Vancouver (ha ha, eat it, NPA!). Election results are here on the CBC website.

I'm not big on politics in general, but there were a few things about the election campaign by Suzanne Anton and the NPA that really irked me:
  1. Suzanne, don't say that you're "interested in being 'green', too!" on camera when you're holding a disposable Starbucks' coffee cup with plastic lid. You're obviously lying . . . or are spectacularly obtuse! Now it's true that I also sometimes have disposable coffee cups. But I wouldn't be talking 'green' while holding one, unless I was using it as a prop for a new recycling initiative I was intending to implement, or a ban on  them outright. Yikes. Your idea of green is probably putting paper into the blue bin and not the trash - decades and decades old.
  2. The attack ads on television. What are we, American? Whose poor taste is that anyway? And I personally didn't care to have to hear whining like that in my living room. I didn't see any 'alternative choices' presented. You just wanted to complain, didn't you? Bah. Poor form, chaps! What WOULD you have done differently to prevent the Stanley Cup riots? Hmm? HMM? Nothing. I thought so. Way to convince me.
  3. Don't put hefty dudes' NPA campaigns on during traffic reports saying they're worried about traffic congestion (arterial congestion can mean a couple of things, bud!). Of course you are - I've seen skinny Gregor peddling away like mad in the bike lanes here in the downtown area where traffic moves smoothly (it sure does! Don't let anyone deceive you on that!). He's rolling along! You're probably stuck in traffic eating your drive-thru crap as you commute from the 'burbs in. I can't vote for someone's traffic policy when it looks like they haven't electively walked a kilometre in their lives!
  4. Props to the COPE guys who thought to advertise on public transit. I voted for you 'cause of that - sorry it didn't work out. Thanks for thinking about who's going to be reading it and where, and also for caring about the infrastructure. NPA's guys are just worried about merging out of that drive-thru in their SUV loaded with take-out trash!
  5. Why on Earth would your campaign stick to "old fashioned, common-sense" ideals? Why would anyone want to vote in a party with no new insight?

Anyway, just a quick little "yippee!" for the lovely results of our civic election. It's nice to see Dianne Watts kicking butt in Surrey, too!

Don't Be Taken to the Cleaners! Hand-washing "Dry Clean Only" garments

One of the most frustrating and heart-breaking phrases of clothes shopping, new or vintage, is "Dry Clean Only". Not only does dry cleaning cost mucho dinero (the idiom "taken to the cleaners" refers to just that!), it's terrible for the environment and potentially your health too.

I'm sure I've ranted and raved about PERC (perchloroethylene, a.k.a. "tetrachloroethylene") before - it's the major component of dry cleaning solution. Some quick facts about PERC (referenced sites are linked):

Best to avoid its use, yes?

To help avoid relying on PERC to clean your clothes, apart from the obvious step of not intentionally purchasing "Dry Clean Only" garments, you can sometimes 'cheat' a bit and have a go at gentle washing at home*.

*I cannot and will not be held responsible for ruined clothes! If you love it, if it cost a mint, and if you really couldn't bear to see it damaged in the least, get it dry cleaned! If you're willing to take a risk - I wish you the best of luck!

Here are some wonderful sites that help you get around that disheartening "Dry Clean Only" label:

On Wet Clean Wool, Silk and Rayon by Annie Bond
  • a fantastic resource for actually washing, not just spot cleaning, wool and silk and even RAYON which is in my experience the most punishing of all fabrics if you decide to skip the cleaners! Thank you Annie!

  • a comprehensive and reassuring article on the hows and whys of dry cleaning and how to reduce trips to the cleaners

and my #1 recommended resource....

"Hand Washing 101" by KT Campbell
  • FULL of great tips like "Golden Rules of Hand Washing" (things I hadn't even considered!), i.e. NEVER use vinegar on linen and NEVER use bleach on silk! This article also describes what should be in your "Hand Washing Toolkit", and breaks down washing instructions by fabric, including separate sections where required (a whole section on silk ties in particular). 
  • this author also has a 'fabric first aid' page - "Stain Removal 101"
  • I bookmarked this site. I have a feeling it's going to come in handy! Thank you KT Campbell!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Miura Waffle + Milk Bar on Davie

Well, well, well! Cold and flu season (and grad school 'busy-ness'!) has hit me hard! I apologise for the delay in posting.

I have a few semi-completed posts on the go that will be up in good time, but for today I'm just going to give a quick restaurant review / recommendation on MIURA Waffle and Milk Bar.

Right up there with "Innocent Coffee" for the cute & quaint quotient, Miura is a little-known hideaway on the outskirts of Yaletown, right in the transition area between Well-Dressed-Chihuahua-Ville and the West End.

Miura makes OISHII (delicious) waffle sandwiches (see their gallery here). The couple-owned-and-operated restaurant has innovative and mouth-watering creations from the Korean-esque "Hoisin" to the special that my husband had the other day which was a Bulgarian creation of some sort (pictured below). It didn't last very long at all!

You'll have to SMELL this hot-off-the-griddle creation to get the full effect! I wish I could remember the name.

My favourite, being a pescetarian and all that jazz, is the "Veggie", which is on special on Thursdays for $5.99. On a rainy, soggy day where all you really want is a quick, comforting and quiet hot lunch, the Veggie waffle sando is a choice you won't regret! The spinach is wilted and cooked right into the waffles that sandwich together sauteed mushrooms and rich cheese . . . with a glass of milk, this really hits all the right 'comfort' notes for me! (It's also a hot veggie entree that doesn't include red onions or an entire bulb of garlic, which is such a rarity! Bless the folks at Miura!).

So good, and amazingly filling! Seriously, this sandwich improves my day substantially.

My husband also loves the "HEC" (ham, egg, cheese), which is his 'usual'. But the specials they have are so creative and tempting that very often he tries something new. We've never actually even tried the 'sweet' waffle sandos and have always gone for the 'savoury' choices! Something tells me that the dessert-like ones will not disappoint, either!

Sweet, calm and quiet - a great place to enjoy a waffle sando! (It's also VERY CLEAN, which stands out downtown!)

I also can't help but think that THIS is the place to bring children to - the flavoured milk will be a hit, and what kid wouldn't love someone making up a 'gourmet waffle sandwich' for them, right before their eyes? If you're doing Christmas shopping downtown, Miura will provide a comforting oasis from the mayhem.

Banana Caramel on special Fridays. That seems appropro.

There might be cheaper places to eat out for lunch downtown (Megabite pizza, for example), but do not pass up Miura. ALWAYS SUPPORT THE LITTLE GUYS! In the spirit of the whole "Occupy Vancouver" stuff, avoid the big chains and give your money to those that deserve it (you can tell I'm not exactly 100% behind "Occupy" in Canada, can't you? Meh. Lacks organization and a coherent message. I feel whatever 'movement' was hoped for was quashed by rebellious and otherwise unsavoury deadbeats looking for an excuse to shout at 'authority' in general. Sad. Take up sports in the meantime to get the grumpies out, and come back when you have a REAL message and a REAL plan and you can bet I'll be more supportive then!).

Crappy, rainy day?! A waffle sandwich will fix that! No, really! It does for me!

Yep, I may find the whole Occupy "movement" (it's not moving much of anywhere, but I can't think of a better term) woefully ill-constructed and vague, but I get the general sense of it, I think. And that's "SCREW THE RICH BASTARDS AT THE TOP! LET'S HAVE OUR OWN LITTLE FRENCH REVOLUTION!"

Let them eat waffles....? Ah, but we CAN! And you can look across at Subway and Nandos and think, "Aha! I'm not lining the pockets of some rich, unscrupulous jerk! I'm having an AWESOME waffle sando at Miura instead! I rock!"

In which case, eating out at a sweet little shop by the honest, hard-working couple that runs Miura is a MUCH better choice that hitting up a stupid chain restaurant. The people of Miura are like you and I - independent and going our own way as much as we can in this society. Choose a waffle sando at Miura for lunch and snub your noses at the big corporations that feed you crap and advertising.

Honest food tastes better. And hot, freshly-made-to-order waffle sandos? They're the best of all!

Not quite patio weather, but I'll be making good use of it in the spring!

One last thought - if you like the "Parisian" crepe places, you'll LOVE Miura. It's about a billion times cleaner than any of the crepe places downtown, certainly better value and ingredients, less noisy and chaotic, and it's kind of the next chic thing. You can thank me with a Miura gift certificate for tipping you off nice and early!

MIURA Waffle + Milk Bar. 
829 Davie Street (between Hornby and Howe)