18 January

Building Community through Food

Think about how important food is in our culture. We court over food. We donate food to those in need. Food factors into gift-giving and takes a special role during holidays and gatherings. We gather as a family over a common dinner table. (In my house growing up, the TV went off during dinner and we didn’t answer the phone.) We teach our children an elaborate set of rules and mannerisms that govern the world of food. As we learned in school, food, shelter and clothing are the three basic human needs of pure physical survival.

©Darwin Wiggett - Yummy!

©Darwin Wiggett – Yummy! 

What does food have to do with photography? Here at oopoomoo, we donate every year to a charity or non-profit to support the efforts of these organizations in creating a healthy, sustainable and diverse planet. This past year, we donated our photography services to the Cochrane Cookhouse in recognition of the incredible work that this organization performs for the community. While we could just have handed over cash, it seemed a good opportunity to meet and engage with Cookhouse staff and volunteers by offering our photography and editorial services. The experience was awesome! We’d already attended some of the excellent classes offered by the Cookhouse, such as learning how to can and preserve, make your own cheese and yogurt, and cook up a mean (and healthy) ethnic meal. But by donating our time and skill, we got to learn more about the talented and hard-working people who bring such fun and educational programs to our town.

©Darwin Wiggett - Craig Westhaver of gourmetfoodstuff.com

©Darwin Wiggett – Craig Westhaver of gourmetfoodstuff.com

Let’s face it: food security and the quality of our food and water are going to be (some would argue they already are) defining issues in Canada in coming years. Certainly the plentiful bounty we experience, and the copious food waste we produce, are already trends pointing to an unsustainable food production cycle that will be reset, whether we plan for it and manage it or it just happens to us. That’s why entities like the Cochrane Cookhouse are so important: not only do they offer opportunities to learn the lost art of producing and storing your own healthy food, but they also provide opportunities to connect with your neighbours. In a political climate of short-sighted economic policy and ‘business as usual’ backroom deals, it’s even more important for citizens to directly engage with such grass-roots groups. If you’re lucky enough to have one in your community, support it, share information about it and above all treasure it.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sam on dish duty at the Cookhouse

©Darwin Wiggett – Sam on dish duty at the Cookhouse

9 May

Doughnuts: A treat for the whole family — any time of day!

My sister and I were reminiscing recently about a cookbook that featured prominently in our lives as we were growing up…or at least featured prominently at the dinner table.

A Guide to Good Cooking!

A Guide to Good Cooking!

The Five Roses Flour cookbook was the main go-to resource in our household. And no wonder! From the perfect vichyssoise to the Spencer method for fish fillets, this cookbook covered it all. I tried my first standard rolls (‘buns’ in modern parlance) as a teenager. They were quite the failure! Last year I attempted them again since I’ve learned a thing or two about cooking over the last decade or so. Alas, they were more like pucks than fluffy spheres. Even though the introduction to the book exclaims, “No wonder the Five Roses Guide to Good Cooking has become a popular gift for the new bride”, it was my dad who was the baker in our house. I still remember his homemade buns and loafs…the sweet freshness of ‘from-scratch’ bread is just not found in today’s supermarkets.

There's something about a homemade roll....

There’s something about a homemade roll….

Maybe I can get Darwin on this baking thing, since he eats a lot more bread (and peanut butter) than me. Growing up, tea biscuits, pancakes and waffles were also very popular pages. The pancake page has long since detached itself from the coil binding and is at great risk of venturing out on its own someday. Quick question: pancakes or waffles?

Pancakes or waffles?

Pancakes or waffles?

French pancakes rock (and they're easy to make)!

French pancakes rock (and they’re easy to make)!

This cookbook has seen some hot, greasy days in the kitchen. I confess to a secret but passionate love for butter, chicken fat, bone marrow…the more savoury the better! Back in the day, lard was not a four-letter word and it was used frequently in baking and cooking. I think the solution is not to eat less fat necessarily but to get off our lazy butts, work less at the computer and spend more time outside with family. Oh, and make our food from scratch rather than settling for the over-processed, nutrient-deprived pap that passes as food for too many of us today. I may not be able to make buns rise, but I do make a mean oatmeal cookie!

Grandmothers' cookies are the best...because they have brown sugar, butter and shortening!

Grandmothers’ cookies are the best…because they have brown sugar, butter and shortening!


27 April

Destination Travel Workshop: Pay What It’s Worth To YOU

Darwin and I like to experiment. And we’d like you to join us in an experiment that might seem a little crazy at first (or an incredible deal!). For this year’s Destination Travel Photography Workshop June 25-28, 2012 at Island Lake, we’re going to take our professional fees out of the cost and let participants pay what they think the workshop is worth at the end of the weekend. We know times are tough, and sometimes you can’t afford to take that class or book that holiday or buy that special vacation for your significant other. Well, we still have space in this exciting workshop, so if cost has been a factor for you, now’s your chance! Here’s how it works:

Darwin and I are going to run the workshop no matter what. Participants who have already registered will get the same deal; all you have to pay are your accommodation and meals charged by Island Lake, who is giving us an great deal. You could attend this four-day workshop for as little as $433! That’s just over $100 per day and includes all your meals and accommodations plus a wine tasting event  in a luxury lodge on a private reserve. You can’t beat that! Check out the updated prices here.

The program is the same, and I’ll go into a few more details below, but this is definitely an opportunity that we can’t do with every workshop we offer, so don’t miss out. The lodge is located just outside Fernie, British Columbia, on a 7000 acre private forest. From old growth cedar to lush undergrowth, the place is very private and ecologically unique. Here are a few more images from the lake just below the resort:

The Lizard Range, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Last year when we were scouting the place and arranging the details of the workshop, we saw a black bear on this lake at the far end of the picture here. Apparently a mother moose and her calf are also frequent visitors to this tranquil scene! And fresh flowers are coming up and everything is so green and lush!

Forest trail, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Forest trail, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou - same scene, horizontal framing. It's lush in June!

You might be wondering why we’re attempting such a crazy project. Well, we’ve found that the photography industry is in a constant state of flux. New products are entering the market all the time, and it’s hard to know how to price your offerings. For example, more and more eBooks are being made by photographers teaching you how to make pictures, yet no can even agree yet on how to call them — is that ‘eBook’, ‘ebook’, ‘e-book’ or ‘E-Book’? By doing this little experiment, we hope that we’ll have a better idea at the end of this workshop how much people feel is fair value for this style of photography instruction. By the way, if it seems a bit intimidating to price your own workshop, don’t worry; we’ll put our original pricing (with percentage breakdowns like 75%, 50%, 10% etc.) at the front desk as a guideline at checkout. You pay us only what you think the value of our instruction was worth and your ‘donation’ will be anonymous to us!

Lizard Range, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

So what are some of the classes that we’ll be teaching? This is a really comprehensive workshop designed to get you quickly on your feet as a photographer when traveling. We start out with Story Trumps Technique and show you why a story with impact will survive minor technical faults. We’ll also be going over practical, hands-on skills such as using your camera controls creatively, effective lens choice to tell a story and basic outdoor lighting for portraits. And because we’re at a resort with incredibly talented chefs who source a lot of their produce from nearby farms, the workshop wouldn’t be complete without a quick and dirty lesson on food photography on the fly! All this work is bound to make you thirsty, so a little wine tasting will help rejuvenate any tired energies! In all, this package of photography skills will have you bringing home memorable images from your future travels so that friends and family will be able to grasp the spirit of your adventures. Head to the information page here.

Island Lake also has a beautiful cookbook of their recipes (which you get as part of the price), and Darwin and I are going to pick a few dishes to make and photograph for the blog, so watch for that if you’re a foodie!

We hope that you will be able to join us June 25 – 28, 2012 (coming up soon!) for our little experiment. It’s a terrific opportunity to participate in an intensive, educational but fun workshop that is also programmed to be like a little holiday — and you’re in charge of the price! See you at the workshop. If you can’t come, tell a friend, this is a fantastic deal. We believe in it so much we are willing to do the event for free!

Lizard Range, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Natural spring, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

©Samantha Chrysanthou

Lizard Range, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

©Samantha Chrysanthou

25 April

Community Supported Agriculture: Know Your Roots!

“Meet your farmer!” exclaims Aleah Krahn of Sundance Fields in her welcoming email. Aleah’s family owns and operates Sundance Fields in a multi-generational effort at raising healthy, naturally-grown produce and livestock. They are an increasing rarity in Alberta as Big Agribusiness eats up the landscape, driving economies of scale impossible to match by the average family-farm operation. But the Krahns have found a niche called Community Supported Agriculture, and this is how we met the farmers who would be supplying us this summer with fresh-picked garden produce and farm eggs.

Website for Sundance Fields Farm

Farm Fresh!

 What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)? The premise is basically what humans used to do before the invention of the steam engine — buy local. You as a consumer of food pair up with a local farmer participating in CSA by buying a share in that season’s produce. This way, the farmer knows how much to grow and is guaranteed a market for what is grown so she can concentrate on growing rather than sourcing and marketing. And you get fresh, seasonal, healthy food delivered every week for several months! In the partnership, you share risks inherent in all food production (like crop failure) but not usually reflected in food costs. A hail storm ruins the berry crop just before harvest? That’s life! But with CSA, the cost is spread out among all those who participate in program.

Half section of a tomato

See What It's Made Of

 While CSA programs are great for farmers, they are also ultimately about consumer control. The more information you have about how your food is made, from what goes into food products to the environment in which food is cultivated or raised, the better you are able to decide if it’s healthy to eat or not. CSA programs are transparent: the farmers are listed and known and many encourage you to visit and view their operations for yourself. Some even want you to pick a few weeds! (When was the last time you were invited to preview a feedlot?)

Wide angle image of a curious cow at the fence

© Darwin Wiggett -- Are You Bringing Lunch?

We’re not saying that food in the grocery store is bad or unhealthy, but we do have many concerns about the hidden costs of ‘cheap’ food. These range from the environmental costs of transporting food from foreign countries to food security to living wages for workers. Food is Big Business because food is the perfect product; we all have to eat. But there are serious ethical issues that we all need to think about when we allow corporations to patent life-creating processes like seeds. Can you imagine a world where science creates our food, and control of food is held by a few major corporations? Watch the film Food Inc. if you think that is a laughable prospect cooked up by conspiracy theorists. It’s reality, here and now. There’s a lot of potential in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be beneficial for humans. But there are also many unanswered questions about GMOs and the long-term implications for our health and the health and diversity of natural ecosystems. Given past experiences (DDT on your salad, anyone?), I just can’t seem to muster the requisite faith that the government is prioritizing my health above a corporation’s bottom line. What is also disheartening is that knowledge is stifled in Canada on these issues; Canada refuses to mandate GM products be labelled as such (unless they are exported to Europe where consumers have demanded greater transparency.) In other words, we’re already consuming them without choice. Last time I checked, that wasn’t very ‘free market’. Do you trust the government to pick only the best food for your children? Let’s hope so, because we’re already engaged in a great big experiment right now!

Ornamental Cabbage

© Darwin Wiggett -- Cabbage...Or is it?

These are scary topics, but the point is not to turn away but turn to where you do have some control especially while we wait to see what the long-term impacts of all this genetic splicing is going to be. The more farm operations such as Sundance Fields have support from families in the cities, the more these kinds of programs will thrive, and the greater the pressure on government and industry to be transparent and accountable for how food is grown and regulated. We’re incorporating our weekly produce delivery from Sundance Fields into our FAT Project since we’ll probably have more fresh produce than we know what to do with. So we’ll keep you posted on what we’re getting and what we’re cookin’ up this summer. There are lots of farms in Alberta participating in CSA and selling directly from their farm gates with a wide range of produce and products, so make sure you seriously consider whether buying your food direct from the producer is a healthy choice for you and your family. And if you don’t live in Alberta, tell us if your community supports its farmers, and how!

Some further links:

CSA Alberta

GMO debate: Article on ProQuest, April 2000; Institute for Responsible Technology; a balanced CBC March, 2011 article; CBC 2004 article on GMO labelling.





9 January

The FAT Project – Lessons from the Holidays


Man eating giant cinnamon bun

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Alright, maybe it was not the smartest thing to start the FAT Project right before Christmas.  Surprisingly, it was not the temptation of chocolate, turkey and candy that made the time difficult; it was the upset to schedule.  We got used to following a fairly set schedule.  We exercised at a consistent time and our meals were all planned out.  One of us fetched the groceries and cooked for a few days and the other was on Kitchen Patrol.  We managed to mostly pull this off, and felt better and lost inches in the right spots.  But then came the train wreck called “the Holidays” and we were magnificently off-schedule and off-diet.  We only messed up a few days here and there, but every time we traveled, it was really tough to stay to the diet and our vigorous exercise regime.

You really find out how hard it is to find something appetizing and healthy when you travel.  Most healthy food has to be prepared somehow.  The stuff that doesn’t need to be chopped, cooked or even refrigerated tends to be less healthy (e.g. processed).  That’s because the more processed a food is, and the less it resembles its original form, the more unhealthy it probably is.  Along with good ‘ole salt, more chemicals are used to extend its shelf-life and more lab-created, synthetic materials substitute the fresh flavours found in natural foods.  When you return to a basic food palette, most processed food you used to enjoy tastes like salted cardboard.

Along with a busy time of visiting and travel, we have been working in the office on the new and exciting things we hope to do this year for oopoomoo.  The feedback to our new business has been wonderfully positive with lots of ideas from the oopoomoo community – that’s you!  But it’s surprising how almost incompatible a full work-day is with a healthy lifestyle (we are sure many of you can relate).  You have to be very organized.  As self-employed workers with a new business, we work more than eight hours a day.  Finding the time to fetch ‘fresh’ food from the grocery store (how old produce is by the time it gets here and how much nutrition is lost during travel is probably another issue) and then wash, chop, combine, cook and serve—three times a day—is like a part time job!  This isn’t even factoring in the exercise program which takes a minimum of at least one and half hours per day! And did we mention that we still need to walk the dog three times over the course of a day as well? Whew, when to sleep?

Remember how in our original post we decided to live 80/20?  80% ‘good behaviour’ (active lifestyle, moderate portions, healthy foods) and 20% for our fave treats and eating out.  After the struggle of staying on a rigid 100% hard core diet/exercise schedule with only minor interruptions, we’ve decided that the 80/20 lifestyle is a more sustainable program. If we go hardcore we’ll likely just do the yo-yo weight ups and down that is common with any diet. We hope that by building in an allowance now for changes in schedule and travel, we can still slowly lose weight but still be flexible enough to ‘roll with the lunches’ so to speak and maintain this for the long term.

Some stats:

Darwin has lost 7lbs and is holding steady (even after sneaking the occasional peanut butter sandwich when Sam wasn’t looking)!

Sam has lost 6lbs and is still sloooooooowwwwllllyyy losing more (but she has gotten more muscle and so weight only tells part of the story — she can now bench press Darwin’s Canon 1ds Mark III no problem!).

We both feel great physically overall and we actually don’t miss fries, or potato chips or other junk food. It just does not taste good to us any more (but beer still does!) Some things probably won’t change.

(How are all you hard core P90X people doing??)

17 December

The FAT Project

The following contains images that are not for the faint of heart!  It also does not have much in the way of photo tips and suggestions, so if you are in a rush, you may want to avoid this post wherein Darwin and Samantha bare all (ok, almost all–this is a PG site after all) on their road to health, happiness and a better world.

These days are over!