Where my Yogurt Comes From

True story: I am shopping with my kids when they spot the Olympic organic yogurt and ask for some. I suggest we try another kind of yogurt that is on sale, because I am cheap like that. They will not hear it. I buy the yogurt. They eat it. All goes well.

olympic dairyOlympic Dairy got its start here in the Vancouver area in 1979, and today it has a 66% market share for organic yogurt sold in British Columbia. I buy it because my kids like it, and because I like going organic when I can. However, I didn’t know anything about it – including those fun facts at the beginning of this paragraph – until last week. One of the good parts of being a blogger is that you occasionally get invited to do cool stuff. Last Thursday I got to do one of those cool things when I toured a local organic dairy farm that sells its milk to the Olympic Dairy, and then tour Olympic Dairy itself.

We arrived on the Brandsema farm in Abbotsford at about 10:00am, which is apparently a full eight hours after milking starts in the morning. That is, if 2:00am can actually be considered the morning, which I contend that it can’t. If one of my kids wakes up at that time I very firmly say, “It is still nighttime, go back to sleep.” I guess cows are not so reasonable, though. The farm manager Ian showed us around. He has been there since the beginning, when the farm got its start in the late 90s with 30 cows. Today it has 200 milking cows, and other, younger cows that are not yet ready for milking.

olympic dairy organic farm baby cow calf

We met the baby calves, we saw the cows grazing in the field, we saw the barn, and we even saw the maternity area where there was a tiny newborn calf with its mother and another pregnant cow clearly ready to pop at any time. We watched some milking, saw what the cows eat, and even bottle-fed some calves. They get raw milk from the herd. I found one very hungry little one who was willing to take an extra meal from me. Needless to say, it was adorable.

brandsema organic dairy farm farmer cows olympic yogurt

Because this is an organic farm, the cows get ready access to outdoor pasture year-round and eat organic feed. Grass grows here about eight months of the year and they graze, but they also eat hay grown on the farm and grain that they buy from Washington State. Like all Canadian cows they are not given any hormones. They can receive antibiotics in the case of illness, but if they do their milk is discarded for 30 days to make sure no medication ends up in your dairy products. The milk is also tested for quality, including antibiotic residue, at the farm and again at the plant.

dairy farm milking

Ian emphasized that as a farmer his goal is to keep the cows healthy. This ranges from breeding practices (apparently he’s really into genetics) to how they decrease milk supply when drying cows off to giving the cows regular foot care that he describes as “pedicures”. He believes that access to the outdoors is helpful, and that the cows like it, although some do opt to stay inside the barn where it’s cooler. Non-organic farms where I live aren’t required to offer access to the outdoors, and many don’t.

dairy farm barn cows

Our tour then moved on to the Olympic Dairy plant in Delta. It’s a small company, with about 80 employees. They make mostly yogurt, but they also produce sour cream, kefir and regular organic liquid milk. Not all of their products are organic – they say they do about 50/50 between organic and conventional. We had to answer health questions before touring, and we wore overalls and head coverings. Once we were suited up we saw where the raw milk comes in and is pasteurized, where it goes for storage and preparation, and where the finished products are made. One thing that was interesting to me is that most of their yogurt is fermented right in the tubs, so it’s still basically milk when it goes in and then it spends about five hours in a room heated to 110 Fahrenheit where it becomes yogurt. It’s that fast.

olympic dairy

All of Olympic’s products – including the non-organic ones – carry the “natural” label. I was under the impression that this was basically meaningless, but their R&D person said that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency actually regulates the “natural” claim, and I did a little digging and found out this was true. This means that they are limited in what they can and cannot use. For instance, they are not free to use stevia as a sweetener at this point, because it’s not yet approved as “natural”.

olympic dairy yogurtThe best part, though, was the tasting. I tried their natural yogurt, which has recently been re-formulated to contain less sugar. I tried their organic yogurt. I also tried their Krema, which is a Greek-style yogurt that was already my personal favourite. I recommend “Honeylicious”. We also got to sample a new Krema flavour, which is slated for release this fall – pumpkin spice. It was yummy, which is no surprise. I also sampled kefir for the first time. It was the strawberry flavour, and I will admit it wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I’m not really into smoothies or drinking yogurt so if you enjoy either of those your mileage may vary. Finally, I tried their chia yogurt, which is just regular yogurt that contains chia seeds. They are soft and not gritty – someone else said they were reminded a little of bubble tea, which is apt.

We had a bit of a Q&A and one of the things I wondered about was the packaging. Yogurt comes in a whole lot of plastic. They said that they opt for easily-recycled, non-leaching plastic. They also switched from foil to plastic film to seal their containers, because it’s a lot thinner. However, they do not have the types of recycling programs some other yogurt makers like Stonyfield offer. They do recycle in-house, and they have taken lots of steps to be energy-efficient. For instance, the heat from the curing room is pumped into the rest of the plant to warm it during the cold months. I feel that they’re trying, but as a smaller manufacturer their abilities may be limited when it comes to large-scale programs aimed at consumers.

So, what did I learn? I learned that organic dairy farms do function differently than conventional dairy farms. I learned what it’s like to bottle feed a baby calf. I learned that milking happens long before anyone should be awake. I learned that Olympic Dairy sources its milk and makes its products locally (to me). I learned that the word “natural” on a label actually means something in Canada. And I learned that I will be running out to buy the pumpkin spice Krema this fall as soon as it’s available.

Poem of the Month: The Poetry of the Universe

poetryFor the past few months I have been writing poetry. While I’m churning them out at a slightly slower rate than a couple of months ago, I’m still writing weekly. Many of them are not fit for public consumption, but I have written enough that are and I’d like to share some of them. And so, a blog series is born. These aren’t my most personal poems, but I do enjoy each of them.

And now, here is this month’s poem, inspired by my love of math.

The Poetry of the Universe

My favourite number changes
Sometimes it’s 16
Sometimes it’s 36
Usually it’s 96
Because it’s divisible by
4 and 6 and 8 and 12 and 16.

The beautiful part: these things are
Always, always, always true.
It’s not a matter of opinion
It doesn’t change in far-flung
Countries or even distant
Galaxies as yet unseen by human eye.

3.14159265… is unshakeable
Molding the stars in their
Courses, hula hoops on the
Waists of laughing little girls,
Bubbles babies bat at
Of course lemon meringue pi(e).

I heard once that Pythagoras
Assigned mystical significance
To certain numbers and hated
Non-terminating decimals –
Impaled on his own theorem.
To me it just shows he really cared.

Sometimes You Just Have to Try Something

Sometimes you have to step out of your shell and try something new. This happened to me yesterday when my husband and I were enjoying a kid-free afternoon in a very trendy neighbourhood. I came across the Commercial Drive Licorice Parlour, which I have visited before because I am a licorice lover. This time, however, I was brought up short by a sign outside advertising ‘snorting chocolate’.

Now, I am a chocolate lover as much as a licorice lover, if not even more so, but I was puzzled. And intrigued. And puzzled. How, and more importantly why, would one snort chocolate?

Once I was inside the store buying dark chocolate-covered Australian black licorice and minty Dutch licorice chalk I had to ask. What’s the deal? Apparently the idea of snorting chocolate was conceived for a party thrown by the Rolling Stones with a chocolate theme. Which struck me as incredibly funny. And I decided that I might as well try it. So I shelled out $2 and opted for the recommended raspberry chocolate flavour. Or scent. Or variety. You know what I mean, right?

It was … not bad. The chocolate scent lingered in my nose, and hence on my palate, for a solid 20 minutes after, which was pleasant. I think I would generally prefer to eat my chocolate, though. Less sneezy, and more satisfying in the end. Fortunately, however, my husband was there to capture this one-off on video. What does it look like to snort chocolate? Watch and see.

Podcast: Mothers and Memoirs with Melissa Cistaro

podcast melissa cistaro memoir pieces of my motherPodcasting was my most favourite thing for a time, and now I’m thrilled to be slowly getting back into it. The opportunity to chat with interesting people about interesting things is amazing – I highly recommend it. Today I’m excited to share another conversation with an interesting person. Melissa Cistaro is the author of Pieces of my Mother, a memoir that was released in the US on May 5, 2015 and seems to be gearing up for official release in Canada on May 15, 2015.

Melissa’s mother left the family home when Melissa was very young. The memoir covers her experiences growing up without her mother in the house, and her experiences being present when her mother was dying. In her mother’s final days Melissa found a box of “Letters Never Sent” that shine a lens on the past and the present. I got my hands on an advance copy of the book and I found it readable and engaging. Whether or not you share her experiences, Melissa’s memoir will resonate with you in some way. As we all recover from Mother’s Day, this is an interesting take on a different side of motherhood.

podcast melissa cistaro memoir pieces of my  mother bookDuring our conversation Melissa and I talked about writing, publishing, motherhood and a whole lot more. Whether you are a mother or you have a mother (which is pretty much all of us, right?) there is something in this book and conversation for you. Sit back, relax, and take a listen. And stop by www.melissacistaro.com to find out more about Melissa, or pick up a copy of her book pretty much anywhere books are sold. Enjoy!

If you enjoyed my conversation with Melissa Cistaro, or you’d like to hear more of my interviews, check out the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes. As an extra bonus, if you subscribe you won’t miss a minute of my future broadcasts. And if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

What I Will Not do This Year

Today is my 39th birthday. Unlike previous years, this birthday actually didn’t trigger a massive existential crisis. This feels sort of ironic given the fact that I am sort of betwixt and between at the moment, cooling my heels until I start school full-time in the fall. Maybe that’s why – I’m letting myself off the hook because I know I have a plan, and I don’t have to do anything to make that plan happen right now. Whatever the cause, it’s lovely.

birthday selfie

Birthday Selfie

For the past few years I’ve made birthday resolutions. The idea was to set some intentions and bring new things into my life that I didn’t have the year before. Given that I’m in a different frame of mind this year, though, I’ve decided to switch things up. Here is what I plan not to do with this final year of my thirties.


What I Will Not do at 39

  • Eat corn.
  • Ruminate on my various shortcomings, big and small, real and imagined.
  • Go skydiving.
  • Stop loving my still-newish-to-me minivan.
  • Start drinking coffee.
  • Have a baby.
  • Slow my rate of tea collecting.
  • Learn a new language.
  • Lose my mind (I hope).
  • Write a novel.
  • Keep track of my weight.
  • Join the circus.
  • Finally manage to do the splits.
  • Start a business.
  • Stop laughing.
  • Give up chocolate.
  • Move to another house.
  • Let my hair grow out.
  • Get a tattoo.
  • Dye my hair.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Give up on my goal of becoming a teacher.

You know what the best part of this list is? I think I can manage not to do all of it. What about you? What would you like to not do more of?

FOD-What?

I am one of those people who can eat pretty much anything. That doesn’t mean I like everything. Corn on the cob is not my thing no matter how often other people urge me to give it a try. I have. It doesn’t do much for me. I am somehow managing to live a full and happy life in spite of it. But there are very few things I do enjoy that cause me any digestive issues, especially if I don’t go completely overboard. As in, I can eat Halloween candy, but I can’t eat all the Halloween candy at one sitting.

My husband, on the other hand, has to be careful about what he eats. Certain foods like dairy and tomato sauce have to be approached with caution. He has tried all sorts of different supplements and dietary solutions, from avoiding whole grains to only eating whole grains to going gluten-free. Some seemed to be helpful, others not so much, but in the end living life without pizza is just too sad so we’re not doing it.

Periodically I take to the internet anyway. Recently I did just that for an upcoming guest post I’m writing for another site when I came across the acronym FODMAP. Which stands for a very long term that I can’t even begin to prounounce. Suffice it to say it’s a group of certain kinds of carbs that nobody really digests all that well. However, some people are more irritated by them than others. Eliminating them seems to have helped many people like my husband who have digestive issues, but for whom testing has not produced any obvious cause.

FODMAP gluten celiac digestive issues IBS wheatApparently these FODMAPs may account for the growing number of cases of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. There is a lot of overlap between high FODMAP foods and foods that contain gluten. For instance, corn, potatoes, rice and quinoa are all low FODMAP foods and gluten-free. This may explain why many people who don’t have celiac disease notice that they feel better when they avoid gluten.

You can read more about FODMAPs here, here and here. Here’s what I found interesting: many of the high-FODMAP foods are foods that my husband avoids already because he has found them to cause tummy troubles. The other thing that is positive is that someone who reacts negatively to these carbs doesn’t necessarily need to eliminate them entirely. They can try eliminating all of them for a couple of weeks and then slowly introduce them back into their diet to see which ones, and in what quantity, they can tolerate. For many people having the occasional slice of pizza is fine. And if you have a flare-up you know what the likely culprits are. This isn’t a life sentence, it’s just information.

After doing all that reading I was excited and emailing my husband a bunch of links. Then I talked his ear off over dinner. Then I told my friend all about FODMAPs. My husband has spent a whole lifetime being poked and prodded and experimenting, though, so he was a lot more circumspect. I think he has just seen so many miracle solutions that were far less than miraculous. I understand that.

Food is a funny thing. Human beings, as omnivores, can choose such a varied diet. And in this day and age when pretty much everything is always available at the grocery store, the variety is even greater. Few of us are eating simply to live, or choosing our diets based on what’s available right now. We eat foods because we like them, because they connect us to each other, because of how they make us feel, because of what they cost. Our meals make personal and political statements. For people like me this means that choosing to be a vegan, or go paleo, or avoid sugar and caffeine, is entirely intellectual. We can make pretty much anything work.

When you have a history of having to be very careful, things are different. I’ve only experienced this second-hand, but I’ve seen it all the same. Comfort, nourishment and choice are all weightier things. Acronyms like FODMAPs start to blend together after a while, and it can all just feel like a lot of work. So I will print out the list and refer to it, but I won’t impose it on my husband the next time he just wants a burger. Or, at least, I will try not to.

Have you heard of FODMAPs? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with these tricky little carbs.

Poem of the Month: Poetry Class

poetryLast month I shared how I have recently returned to poetry. I haven’t slowed down – so far I’ve written more than 50 poems. Many of them are not fit for public consumption, but I have written enough that are and I’d like to share some of them. And so, a new blog series is born, and I will be poem one poem each month. These aren’t my most personal poems, but I do enjoy each of them.

And now, here is this month’s poem, inspired by the poetry class I took last fall. I had a lot of fun writing this one, and it makes me laugh.

Poetry Class

The
Shape
Of the poem
Matters, he informs
The room. Each word chosen
Carefully. Each punctuation mark
A window into the very soul of poetry
Itself. There are no accidents in an effectively
Affective piece of writing. Blood, sweat and tears,
Caution and deliberation, reflection and cleverness are
The currency of poets. Which makes me think I could be a poet          i will eat you!
Maybe. Because if I know about anything, I know this:
Taking myself far too seriously; Believing that it all
matters; Over-thinking commas and semi-
colons (particularly the semi-colons);
Feeling all the feels; Words. I love
Words so deeply I use them
Recklessly, carelessly,
Wantonly. I’m a
Harlot,
Full.

Image credit – Steve Johnson on Flickr

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