Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A late June update

Tron, enjoying some 'nip

I'm a raincoast girl who in January 2009 packed up and moved to the desert. Our first year here I thought I was going to dry up - I think we had 5 days of rain all year. This year has been different. May and June it's rained at least every other day. Everyone around me is miserable but I'm in heaven! The garden isn't loving it as much and everything is a little behind. But on a rare day of sun I got out there to do some scouting and found a few things up and growing...


mini grapes! hard to imagine these will eventually be real fruit

the cabbage are filling out

kind of a cheat - I bought the rose with buds on it 2 weeks ago!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Almost jam season

It's almost jam time! I've already made one batch this spring with rhubarb and frozen raspberries. But frozen doesn't count, I want fresh berries! Strawberries, raspberries, currants. It's all been delayed this year due to the province wide rains that have kept everything wet and cool. But I've heard reports of strawberries and fingers crossed there will be some at the market tomorrow. So on today's to do list is to track down my empty jars and get some washed. Quite the job seeing as how the cabinets are still only half installed in the kitchen and we're washing everything in the bath! Anyway, I just wanted to say how much I love the jam jars I found at Burgon & Ball. I've got to figure out how to do something like that myself!

Raspberry Rhubarb Jam

this is the basic recipe I use for everything. it's by weight... i'll try to track down the cups later.

500 g diced rhubarb
500 g raspberries
800 g sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Place all the ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring until the jam stage has been reached (220 degrees or when 2 drips of jam come together to slide off your spoon as one). Pour into clean jars and seal. Makes about 5 one cup jars.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


The Saturday farmer's market is finally starting to heat up though the food offerings are still slim. Rhubarb, green onions, spinach. The plants are the thing right now. Herbs, annuals, and finally the tomatoes can be considered. It's almost warm enough, warm enough to at least pretend it's warm enough. And dahlias. Someone was selling tubers for the most stunning range. I bought five and nestled them in on Monday. A stake, a little pat and some nasturtium seeds at their feet. Then water, water, water. And wait...

The ones I picked up:


We had a devastating rain yesterday. Ok, maybe devastating is too harsh a word. It wasn't hurricane force. But it was strong pummeling tender plants and sweeping in through the windows. Further down the block the street is now strewn with gravel, swept down the hill from who knows where. But our soil is mostly intact, the plants mostly unbruised, the floors quickly mopped and the curtains drying. I think from our brood Lucy was the only one who noticed the thunder. She hid under the bed while Tron napped and Bea sat on the porch and let out the occasional bark. So one scardey cat, one cool cat, and one water dog who's not too sure about it when it's pouring from the sky.

The aftermath of the storm is not all bad, though. It's revealed more little seedlings peeking their heads up in the vegetable patch. The broad beans may be late but they've finally shown and the peas seem to have grown an inch overnight. There are more radish and chard suddenly up and the arugula looks like a scattering of green freckles against the dark soil.

Today's goal was to finish the dog proof (ha!) fence around the vegetable patch and to gently mist off some of the soil that the rain tossed up on to the perennials. The fence got done, whether it will deter the beast is another matter. She seems to find running at it head on and getting tangled in the mesh to be great sport. I'm just trying not to scream and think we need to start perimeter training. And the misting? Called off due to another bout of rain, this only hard and drawn out. I think in 2 days we've had the rainiest May on record.

Monday, April 19, 2010

World's best banana bread

No, I'm not growing bananas. We just seem to have so many! I'm not a banana fan and Jamie will only eat them in a small window of ripeness, so when we buy bananas, and we do - as much as I try to be a locavore, the local apples only last so long - we normally end up with a few brown ones. I think I've tried at least 20 banana bread recipes and this is the one I've settled on as the best. It's based on a recipe in The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet, with just a couple of my own tweaks.

Marbled Banana Bread

1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup boiling water
1 cup mashed banana from 2 or 3 very ripe bananas
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs at room temp
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly butter a 9" x 5" loaf pan then line with parchment.

Combine the mashed banana, yogurt and vanilla in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Slowly add the eggs, about a tablespoon at a time, scraping down the bowl from time to time.

Sift together the cake flour, baking soda and baking powder. Mix in the salt. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until incorporated, scrape down the bowl, then mix in half of the banana mixture. Repeat with the remaining flour and banana mixtures, ending with flour.

Transfer half of the batter into the bowl with the cocoa paste, stirring until well blended.

Spoon the batter into the loaf pan, alternating between scoops of the plain and chocolate batters, then use a spoon to gently turn the batter, marbleizing it.

Bake for 55 to 65 minutes or until firm and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes then remove and cool completely on a rack.

* like the tape clipart I used? find it here!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Garden Volunteers

Weed or free plant, the difference really is all about your point of view. I'll admit that there are species almost universally regarded as weeds and unwelcome in the garden. Dandelions. Morning glory. Thistles. And I remember many from my childhood that I loved but my parents saw as weeds. My dad was particularly annoyed by the veronica that colonized the lawn, while I thought they were fairy flowers. Mum hated the freckles violet that I'd picked up at a potluck plant table. I loved them and their invasiveness.

In my new garden I'm eagerly watching all my little garden volunteers as they sprout. Some must have been planted years ago by previous owners. Some tumbled over or crept under the fence from next door. And some I'm sure just appeared, like the veronicas, because the garden needed them. All along the front foundation, and even tucked under the bay window, of the house we have a mass of grape hyacinths. They'll need to be moved later this spring to make way for some new shrubs, but they're so cheery they make me smile every time I see them.

Along one fence I've just noticed violets blooming amongst clumps of emerging bulbs... maybe crocus? I think I'll be moving these little fellows, too. Just a bit farther along so they are between the house and the fence where I'd love to mass violets, lily of the valley and sweet woodruff. Having some volunteers that can just be shifted down is perfect - and cheap! And violets spread so quickly and happily that if I nurture these little guys - a bit of water in our desert summers - they should form a fragrant carpet in no time.

So far I've also spotted iris, tulips (please, don't be yellow or red!), and what I think may be daylilies and a very scraggly, stunted peony. And if all this seems too plant and not enough weed, don't worry, I have those, too. Dandelions, couch grass, yarrow, and enough lilac suckers to prop up all the peas I could ever hope to grow. The crowded, stringy yucca are gone but there's still plenty of backbreaking work in my future! I can't wait to see what else volunteers in our garden and am so happy I'm not the most conscientious weeder. I'm not knowledgeable to identify plants as tiny sprouts and would hate to have lost my violets or peony to over ambitious weeding!

For anyone else inundated with dandelions, don't stress too much, they're quite tasty! Add the young leaves to salads, saute them with plenty of garlic, substitute them for basil in pesto. Or make this tasty twist on the Israeli hot sauce zhoug. Just make sure your dandelions haven't been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides or by neighbourhood dogs and cats!

1 cup young dandelion leaves, washed
1/2 cup cilantro
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 jalapeno or Serrano pepper, stemmed, seeds removed (or keep the seeds and membranes if you like it hot!) OR 1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides as needed.

Zhoug is amazing drizzled over felafel, anything vegetables, or to perk up eggs. It's also great with tacos, which is how I'll be serving it tonight!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's all about the plan

Blank canvas or established garden? Whatever you're facing moving forward you need a plan. Not my forte, but I'm trying! Our garden is a bit of a combination. It's been abandoned for years but has some established trees. A huge, struggling cherry defines one corner of our house. At this stage it can't yield much, but will be a perfect foil for climbing roses. Kitty corner is a large walnut, cramped by 2 planted out Christmas trees and a badly pruned apricot. The back yard has a further 4 large apricots and a weedy something or other, more bug chews than leaf last summer. Add a few knarled old grapes, a tumbling fence, badly laid front path and you get the idea. Not the prettiest yard on the block. Not the house a seasoned gardener would be likely to pick. But we fell in love with the house and the neighbourhood and what's life without a challenge?

For now the front yard has been tidied up. Heaps of yucca have been yanked, dead annuals piled in the compost. I've planted a few bulbs and eagerly watch their progress as the tulip leaves slowly unfurl and the volunteer grape hyacinths open their little bells. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed, though. The space is at once limitless and constraining. Do we want grass? Can I add another plum? Should we take out the apricot? When? How? I'm taking the easy way out and waiting for my dad to come visit. He's an amazing gardener of the snap decision, dig it up and plop it in kind. Just what I and the front yard need.

The back is another matter all together. This will be vegetable heaven and it's all mapped out in my head. All winter I made lists of veggies I love, veggies I want to gorge myself on when they're in season, to pickle, to freeze, to dry. Heirloom beans and tomatoes. Tiny French gherkins for cornichons. Buttery ratte potatoes. And fruit, too. Strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb. Currants to screen the compost. It's a good thing we live near a dog park and back onto a quiet lane. The puppy arriving in a couple of weeks will be fighting for space with arugula and fennel. Hopefully raised beds will be enough to convince Beatrice that the veggies are pack leaders, too.

Despite the fact that it's been warm enough to abandon winter coats for over a month now, I'm still sitting on my hands and spades. We can still have a killing frost here well into May as unlikely as the sunshine streaming through the window might make me think. But time is good. Time to read more, order more seeds, and keep dreaming!

About Me

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A quilter from way back with a passion for all things fabric.