Chilly Carrots and Kale

Adversity? Nope – Hard core gardening!!  Fit for a deer?! We aren’t going to let a snow get in our way…

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Who said you can’t have fresh back yard garden veggies in the Canadian winter?! It takes some planning, some luck and a bit of crazy – but seeing little faces light up when they find veggies they planted last summer under the snow is pretty cool.

It was actually warm enough to dig under the snow with some garden gloves in the winter tunnel this morning (a balmy +3 degrees celsius!).  The strong winds and piles of snow destroyed our pitiful little tunnel, but the straw insulation managed to protect the few precious carrots we had left!!  Hubby thought he had picked most of them for Christmas dinner but there were enough little guys left for a quick snack!!  The kale is still going strong – that “vile weed” seems to survive everything we throw at it.  Thank goodness it tastes good in soup and pasta…

The beet, turnip, leek and onion tunnel is still covered in ice and feet of snow (completely unaccessible on crutches), hopefully we will be blessed enough with a few more warmer days before winter sets in again and we will be able to see some green under there as well!

Worth a try next year in your yard?

 

“Always seek out the seed of triumph in every adversity.” ~ Og Mandino

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Eating Local – Rainbow Hodge Podge

I love Hodge Podge, an East Coast traditional vegetable soup/chowder of sorts.  It celebrates simplicity, deliciousness and fresh garden treasures.  There are many ways to make Hodge Podge, but in honour of my wee girl’s delight in planting pink and purple veggies, we made a rainbow version today with what we could pick fresh this morning.  Being a wee bit different with the pink and purple beans and carrots, we thought it would be okay the break the rules a bit further and add a red onion and a few chives. The great part about hodge hodge is that there is no real rules, you throw stuff in the pot as you prep the next step (and if you are really good you can even have a batch of biscuits in and baked by the time the process is done!)  And the best part – it is almost completely sourced from the backyard or a local market this time of year; the slat and pepper are the only renegades!

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Here is our recipe(ish)

From the Garden:

1 Red onion, chopped fine

3 cups Pink Chieftain Potatoes, chopped chunky

2 cups Purple Gem Potatoes, chopped chunky

A handful of chives

3 cups Orange, purple and white carrots, cut chunky

3 cups Pink, purple and green beans, snapped

Snap peas (as many as I could salvage)

From the Store:

1 1/2 cups Heavy Cream, 2 1/2 cups milk – that is what we had in the fridge (or half and half) – Local!

1/4 cup Real Butter –  Local!

Salt and Pepper

From the family – Grandma’s Butter Biscuits 

Sorry, this one is top secret!

How we did it:

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Simmer the onions in butter until clear (ish)

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Add chopped potatoes and chives, add water just to cover. Bring to gentle boil until the carrots are chopped.

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Add the carrots, cook for 5-10 minutes, then add the beans and reduce the heat.

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While the carrots are cooking – prep the biscuits (only knead 20 times – 21 would be against the time honoured rules!!)

Once the beans go in, cook for 10 minutes and put the biscuits in the oven (mine stay in 16 minutes).

Once the beans are just tender, drain off the water.  Add the milk, cream, 1/4 cup of butter and as much salt and pepper as needed to taste.

Heat over medium low heat to hot (the biscuits should be done just on time!).  Do not boil.

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Of course, the biscuits are for dunking…if they last!!

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They don’t last long in our house….

Gardening in 1744?

While on vacation in Cape Breton, we visited the Fortress of Louisbourg.  This beautiful National Historic Site depicts life as it was in 1744, just before this French Fortress fell to the British.  It is full of adventure, phenomenal animators and is true to the period in every way it can be.

As a child, I spent many summers as part of the children’s animation program, spending many summer days with my cousins in long woolen skirts, bonnets and aprons learning all about the rigours, challenges and successes of life hundreds of years ago.  We sang, we danced, we made up little stories and pulled the wool over many a tourists eyes!   We also learned many skills; lace making, sewing, instruments, fishing with line and hook and bouquet making with the many wild flowers and those we could steal from the many gardens! It was not a typical summer camp, but we loved it and my oldest daughter has taken part a few summers as well.

In an effort to revitalize the tourism and attract more visitors, the Fortress has added many new items to their list of attractions and tours.  This summer saw the addition of a rum tour and sale of rum aged in barrels on site (yes, it was amazing!), a Murder Mystery after hours within the walls of the Fortress and white glove tours that allow tourists to touch actual artifacts found on site by archeologists.  The most interesting to me was the Healing Gardener tour.

It took us through a typical kitchen potager styled in the way of the area and planted with heirloom seeds that would have been grown in 1744.  The French built their gardens in a very ordered and disciplined manner, making use of as much space as possible.  Raised beds and tall fences were used to block wind and salt, heat up the soil quicker and create warm micro climates next to the fierce ocean.  The primary vegetables were root vegetables and legumes that could be stored into the winter  Tomatoes and potatoes were nowhere to be seen – they were not yet in style at the time.  In fact, tomatoes were still believed to be poison!

The second garden we toured was a middle to upper class garden at the Engineer’s home.  The principles were similar, but it was very obvious they would have had more space to waste; the aisles were wider for hoop skirts, there were many more ornamental flowers and even a sundial in the middle.

To maintain order, discipline and symmetry, everything was mirrored, fertilized with compost and seaweed and crop rotated to maintain the health of the soil.  Specific edge plants, such as chives, were planted to deter insects and pests – perhaps I need a chive border! Around the outside of the kitchen gardens were herbs and perennial medicinal plants. This is the part I found most interesting.  There were herbs ranging from Valerian for sleep, Calendula as a beauty cream and Angelica as a candy.  Any aliment that was known had an herb to treat it in that era.

The highlight of the tour, besides our guide Lee, was a small book that we were all given outlining the plants in the garden and their uses.  I have certainly added a few must haves to my list for next year!

This beautiful site has always been on my “Must See” list, but the extra tours and special touches give that little extra something.  The split pea soup and meat pie in the tavern are nothing to sneeze at either!

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” ~ Michael Crichton

Community Supported…Baking

imageMy mom’s kitchen smells wonderful when she bakes. Growing up she would bake us muffins, pies, biscuits, scones and cookies that made our mouths water. Most of her recipes had some kind of delicious fruit in them, usually picked at a local berry farm or bought at a farmers market. Many of her recipes were passed down from my Grandma or the other ladies from the church who published cookbooks as fundraisers. I can’t honestly remember eating a cookie out of a bag or from a box, except maybe from a friend’s house or at the cottage as a treat. Grandma’a wild blueberry pie was famous and even now, my girls ask Santa every Christmas for blueberry pies!  My Papa made applesauce that was second to none – it was akin to pie filling in a jar, heavenly!

Ask any maritimer and I am sure they will say that sitting down with home baking, a cup of tea and a good friend to share with is as close to Heaven as we can get.

Spending time with my girls in the kitchen is one of my most “happy places”. Teaching them how to create delicious creations that have been baked in my family’s kitchens for generations makes me feel more connected to my past and gives me a sense of securing skills for their future.  As we peel, chop, stir, fold and sample, I smile as I remember doing the same with my grandparents and aunties and uncles from rural Nova Scotia. We play music in the background and we chat about our days, distractedly growing closer as mouth watering smells waft out of the oven.  Little by little, they tell me the stories I wouldn’t otherwise hear or the secrets I would likely never discover. Their little imaginations wander as they get to pick add ins and flavourings; more than once we have had competitions to create the best scone recipe – Saturday morning Scone-offs!

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Baking with the kids provides a convenient opportunity to teach them about where our food comes from and how we can look close to home for many of our ingredients. Nova Scotia is fortunate to have many small family farms, markets and Community Supported Agriculture opportunities. Although we have planted many fruit trees and berry bushes on our property, the birds and the deer tend to benefit more than we do! Because we could never grow enough of our own fruit, we joined a CSA and get a weekly fruit box of local fresh, frozen, dried and preserved fruit from a number of farms around us.  It is a surprise each week when we pick up our box (we could check the website first, but where would be the adventure in that?!).

This week before we even picked up our box we definitely had our crisper full of more apples than we could eat, so we decided to bake! Our CSA, organized by Tap Root and Noggins Farms, also offers add-ons of veggies, eggs, meats and grains, which is a nice option to have.  We are also fortunate to have a market close to us called “The Vegetorium” (isn’t that a fun name?) where we can pick up eggs, locally roasted coffee, baking supplies and lots of fresh produce all year round. It is a nice feeling to know which farms our fruit is coming from and to chat with storekeepers who know us by name and can tell us exactly where their eggs come from. If you are interested in joining a Community Supported Agriculture venture in Nova Scotia, here is a link from another Nova Scotia blog, Adventures in Local Food, with a list for 2015. Our CSA has proven a great way for us to enjoy other’s gardens even when we can’t yet enjoy our own!!

On the menu – Nana’s Apple Cake and Papa’s Applesauce

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Delicious Honeycrisp, Gala and MacIntosh apples from the weekly CSA fruit box.

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Little hands loading up the apple peeler…

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Peeling, peeling and peeling!!!

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We added dried cranberries and blueberries to the batter – also from our fruit box.

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Little hands making sure Nana’s apple cake is perfect…

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Success!!

And Papa’s applesauce was pretty amazing too…

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We add brown sugar (or honey), cinnamon and nutmeg to chopped apples and simmer on medium low until it reaches a soft and saucy consistency. We love it warm over ice cream or vanilla yogourt!

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Recipe for Nana’s Apple Cake

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

3 cups chopped apples

3/4 oil

2 beaten eggs

2 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

2 1/4 cup flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 1/2 cups raisins, cranberries or dried blueberries

Combine chopped apples with sugars, oil, eggs and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients and raisins or berries.  Bake in a bundt pan or 2 loaf pans for about 1 hour at 350 degrees.  Enjoy with a cup of tea!!!

” If most of us valued FOOD and CHEER and SONG above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Nova Scotia Treasures

IMG_3107Buried treasure, shipwrecks, legends of smuggling and piracy fascinate my family, young and old. Growing up in Atlantic Canada provided so many opportunities to become engrossed in tales of lore.  On the South Shore is Oak Island, a small, mysterious isle where treasure hunters have been trying since 1795 to unearth what could be one of the biggest troves, ever!  6 people have died trying, millions have been supposedly spent on excavating and countless hours have been spent dreaming about what could be buried hundreds of feet underground in booby trapped vaults! My big girl’s voracious appetite for theories and speculations cannot get enough of Templar intrigue and Capt. Kidd rumblings.

Cape Breton’s natural beauty is booty enough for me, but for treasure hunters the call of hundreds of shipwrecks cannot be quelled.  In 1965, wreck hunter Alex Storm and his crew brought up gold and silver from the treasure ship, Le Chameau. It was rumoured to be worth almost a million dollars, but given a political scandal and settlement, no one knows for sure!  Another Cape Breton legend holds that the Louisbourg treasure, mysteriously missing following the siege of 1758, contained the annual gold and silver payroll of the French colonies, priceless relics and religious artifacts.  It has never been recovered, nor its resting site located…some think it is hidden on a small island in a lake off Mira Bay that was once an estuary, safe from the invading British forces and blockade.

As a kid, my Papa would take us on boat rides looking for the island and the booty. If the motor was out of commission, he would resort to rowing us, dory style, on our epic hunts. Now that my Dad is the Papa, the legend of the Louisbourg treasure and the traditional excursions to “Treasure Island” continues to have deep roots in our family. Annual trips still elicit squeals of delight from my little buccaneers, curious cousins and any little scallywags who visit!  Of course I can’t share the name of the lake, that would break the treasure hunter’s solemn code.

Maritimers are blessed with other treasures as well! Though my girls don’t find my adimageventures seeking out new garden markets to visit, farms to explore on Open Farm Day, or digging for buried treasure in our potato plot nearly as mystical, they indulge (read: put up with) me!  We hide our treasures throughout the house for the winter. In the garage we store root veggies, pumpkins, squash for a mid-winter homegrown pot of soup, rich as any king. In the windows, we hang herbs as decorations to dry and enjoy warm, aromatic teas all winter.  My little one loves delivering her prized mint next door on a regular basis!  The pantry is full of jars of pickles, beets and salsa. We freeze and puree and jelly. We even keep a few greens growing under the lights! There is no greater gold to me than that of sparkling crab apple jelly on a hot biscuit after a great day of skiing!

Lastimage fall, I tried to “overwinter” some cold hardy root veggies and kale in a secret spot in the garden.  Sadly, the strong North east winds and sly deer who share our inclination for treasure hunting had other plans.  They found them. My PVC hoop tunnels and frost blankets were no match for them; somewhere a very content deer is gloating over his victory in securing my garden’s plunders. Next year I will have to reinforce my tunnels with better support, stronger plastic, bigger rocks and more insulation. Lesson learned!  The only thing they left alone were my leeks and a few rogue kale, both of which are quite a treat to dig out from under the protection of the snow in the middle of January.

My big girl (staff photographer) thought it would be fun to share a bit of our winter treasures by taking pictures of a yummy winter soup we made on a blustery day and providing a “treasure map” of how we made it.  It is not exactly a recipe because I tend to measure by tasting! image First she roasted pie pumpkin, acorn squash and butternut squash with garlic hidden under the cored out centres. Next the last of our stash of potatoes were chopped and sautéed with fresh picked leeks, dried sage, thyme, chilis and chives. By accident I added nutmeg instead of pepper – I told you I was easily distracted!  I get that from my Grandma. image Chicken stock was added to the potatoes and leeks to simmer while the squash cooled and sweat under foil, making them easier to peel.  Once cooled and peeled, the were blendered with the roasted garlic and added to the soup. image We added some fresh cilantro, easily grown in windowsill pots, for a little something extra!image Though we may never actually uncover the Louisbourg treasure, I hope my girls will never lose their innocent sense of wonder and adventure. In time, they may even come to treasure all the spoils this beautiful province has to offer, especially those from our own back yard. Who knows, maybe one day they will take their own kids hunting for buried treasure, even if it is only potatoes.

When planning our garden for the year, we try to think about what we will grow to store for the winter, here are our thoughts..

Things we grow to store: Pie Pumpkin, Acorn squash, Butternut squash, Cheiftan and Norland potatoes, carrots, onions

To freeze: Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, Haskap berries, beans, shell peas, beets and greens, Swiss chard, basil, dill

To can: Salsa, berries for jam, jalapeños for pepper jellies, beets and pickling cucumbers

To dry: Mint, oregano, sage, thyme, chives, tarragon, savoury, rosemary, I would like to try chamomile this year!

To tunnel: Beets, carrots, leeks, kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, mustard, parsley, mizuna

Under the lights:  Mesclun, romaine, cilantro, basil, arugula

Riches do not consist in the possession of treasures, but in the use made of them.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Roots Grow Deep

IMG_1439In Nova Scotia, roots grow deep in culture, families and gardens.  Growing up around the country, I always knew where I came from and how important it was to know my roots, thanks to my parents and extended family.  It didn’t matter which province we lived in, home was always here. “What’s your Fathers name?” is a phrase that is as common to identification as Black Eyed Susan’s  are to the side of the maritime roads. Every summer was spent from beginning to end with grandparents, aunts, uncles and hoards of cousins, nuturing our relationships and honing our berry picking skills. Most days were spent in bathing suits, running around in the fields, using outhouses, playing cards, baking and creating. There were bonfires, sing alongs, epic games of Lee Hockers in the dark and of course music, dancing and food.

Cape Breton Wildfowers, Grandma’s lupines, Aunt Pat’s tiger lilies, and Grandma D’s dahlias were the stIMG_1386art of my fascination with flowers. They were centrepieces for every table and window sill. And what an honour it was to have your garden’s splendours displayed on the altar in mass on Sunday morning!

Papa’s rhubarb, blueberry patch and crabapple trees were treated as precious as gold, we all drooled waiting in anticipation for his applesauce, jellies, stewed rhubarb and blueberry pies.  I was taught by a great many of relatives that to let a wild berry go unpicked was next door to a mortal sin.  Bugs, bogs and thorns were very weak excuses indeed. My gardens are now home to many “roots” transplanted from many generations of my family.  I get to remember precious moments shared with now passed loved ones every time I sit in my garden.

Before any seed can grow, it needs a solid foundation.  A fertile, well planned plot with lots of sun, good drainage, special friends (bugs) to pollinate it and defences to ward off those pesky invaders who may try to take advantage of good intentions.  This time of year, January, is when I start to dream and plan.  Of course I have helpers!  My littlest daughter is my biggest ally.  We love to sit together and list out what we liked about last year, what new ideas we may have for this year and look through pictures that lift up our spirits while it is still too cold outside to play in the dirt. I like to think that even something as simple as planning our veggie rows or speculating on how tall our sunflowers may grow this summer is laying down some firm roots in our own little family.  Her vivid imagination never ceases to amaze me and I cherish listening to her thoughts, even if it means we will end up with a “purple veggies only” plot this year!

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Dreaming of what is to come!

It isn’t quite time to start sowing seeds, but it is never too early to dream, share and get prepared!

My to do list for this week:

– Pull out old garden plans and pictures to make sure we don’t plant the same thing in the same place as last year.  I can’t grow everything in our zone 5/6 garden, or without an infinite amount of space and time, so planning what we really want to plant now saves a lot of impulse buying when the seed catalogues and greenhouse adventures begin. I also “weed out” anything we tried last year that was not a hit so as not to make the same mistakes again.  I was the only one who liked turnip…60 pounds may have a bit excessive in hindsight!

– Draw out any new planned development and start thinking about supplies, I really want to finish my raised bed border around the main part of the veggie garden and attempt a “squash arch”. And what the heck am I going to do with the garden beside the shed??

– Make a seed starting calendar, so I know when to get started.  I have jumped the gun far too many times and have had 4 foot tomatoes in the porch in April….websites for local seed companies, “like-climate” blogs and books by gardeners from our local area are fantastic resources.

– Dust off my favorite books and magazines to scour through again and again, always finding something new and exciting to try this year…I am thinking maybe peanuts?

– Connect with friends who are looking to share ideas, seeds, separated plants and a cup of tea (or glass of wine).  It is far more fun to plan with friends – even a yoga class can be a place of veggie inspiration.  Bok choy is a great veggie to meditate on!

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Kind hearts are the gardens, Kind thoughts are the roots, Kind words are the flowers, Kind deeds are the fruits.  Take care of your garden, And keep out the weeds, Fill it with sunshine, Kind words and Kind deeds.” – Longfellow