I’ve written before about how something as simple as tending to a row of peas can calm frenzied days, and how flowers from the garden can lighten even the saddest days. My faith in garden therapy continues to grow. It’s been a spring and summer of gardening in five or ten minute stints throughout the day as I navigate the joys and challenges of being a new mommy.
Our little guy has his own chair outside on the deck and many mornings we enjoy our breakfast or lunch outside and I do the watering in between bites, or pick a strawberry or two for us to eat. Once in a while a weed gets pulled, but only in the food growing areas. The rest of them have free reign of the yard, I’m afraid (motherhood is doing wonders for curing my perfectionist tendencies).
Best of all is going out, usually late afternoon, to harvest something good for dinner. We’ve had a steady crop of greens that I’ve been using in salad and pasta – rainbow chard, spinach, arugula, bok choy and more – since late spring. Cucumbers have been a success as well – from one little plant I’ve harvested at least a dozen full-sized cukes. Tomatoes are also collecting in a basket I keep on the windowsill. I’ve been picking them a bit green to encourage others on the vine to ripen up. The tomatoes I grew this year shot up sky-high, so it is a race to get the fruit before the plants topple over from the weight.
We have plums, plums, and more plums. I have made six beautiful plum cakes over the past couple of weeks, and I might still make one or two more. The plums are wonderful for eating fresh as well. No one is enjoying them more than our 7-month old. Good luck eating one if he is in arms-length of you: he’ll reach over, grab it away and hoover it down with the most intense passion and focus. All that is left a minute later is a sticky, drippy, gooey mess of plum juice and slobber all over everyone and everything. Motherhood also cures you of caring about whether your house or shirt or arm is clean: I am in love with this kind of mess.
Apples, sadly are a bust this year, for reasons unknown. Last year’s harvest was incredible, so I will have to figure out what we did wrong so the pie-making can recommence next season. Tent caterpillars might be to blame. We found a pile of them nesting in the tree in the late spring, so I wonder if they ate all the blossoms. Last year’s apple sauce is still here, though, and almost as popular as the plums with our little guy.
Fresh herbs – chives, dill, sage, basil, thyme, and oregano – are all thriving in pots and in the garden. The ambitious me wants to dry mint leaves, lemon balm, lavender, and rose petals for tea. We’ll see if that happens this year, but for now I am reminding myself to brew up a pot of what’s growing fresh in the garden.
There will be time enough for tea bags all winter, and for weeding maybe some day. For now I will enjoy my five minutes here and there in the garden by picking something good to eat.
Five years ago, on August 1: in Porto, standing on a bridge, watching a seagull drift. I was marveling at the beautiful melancholy of a moody, cloudy morning, and at the same time feeling the most intense sadness for seemingly no reason at all.
I didn’t know yet. And yet I did.
Those of you who know me well know that this is the hardest time of year for me and my family. It has been five years since my brother died and the fact that he is gone seems more unbelievable than ever. Anyone who has lost someone they love must know this feeling, and this question: how is it even possible? How can someone that was so real, so vital, so essential, just be gone?
There is no answer to that question, no solution to that feeling. There is only sorrow and regret, sadness at what can never be, and holding close to the ones you have left. For everyone who has offered comfort this week, and in all the weeks before: thank you. It helps more than I can say.
I will never know for sure, but in my heart I believe this is where I was, and where he was, when he passed. What I felt was so strong: it had to be real.
I hope he was there, too, just for a minute or two. Maybe he was that seagull flying up high, taking in the view as he journeyed to the next place.
A recipe for all the beautiful corn available right now. I have dill, chives and jalepeno peppers growing in my garden so I used those to flavour the chowder, and I couldn’t resist garnishing with the pretty flowers starting to form on my dill plants.
4 cobs of corn, cooked and cut from the cob (save the water you boil the corn in to use as broth in the soup)
6-8 new potatoes (about golf ball sized)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 can coconut milk
1 red pepper, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1/4 cup chives, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
In separate pots, boil the potatoes and corn until cooked. The potatoes should be a bit overcooked (you want them nice and soft for blending in the soup). The corn should be a bit undercooked to make sure it keeps a fresh taste to it when you heat it up in the soup. Save the corn water for blending into the soup – like a corn-flavoured broth.
Saute the onion, celery and carrots (I used the big pot the corn was in to save on washing). Add potatoes and half the corn. Puree the potato mixture in a blender using the corn water until it’s the consistency of a very thick soup. Add back into the pot and stir in coconut milk, red pepper, shallots, jalepeno and the remaining corn. Season with salt and pepper to taste and heat until the soup is warmed through – about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the dill and chives just before serving. We ate ours for lunch with a slice of quiche.
What a great book this is – I highly recommend it. Us Conductors is a love story, a spy novel, a history lesson and a biography all in one. The story is based on the inventor of the theremin – a musical instrument that creates sound from electricity. The story (based on a true one) is set between the two World Wars and follows the life of the Russian inventor as he travels to America at the behest of the Russian state to show off his creation.
I am one of those stodgy souls who still reads the newspaper, and every weekend I eagerly turn to Sean Michaels’ column about music in the Saturday Globe. I’d buy the paper just for that section, and it’s made me a fan of the music blog Said the Gramophone as well. His book, Us Conductors, was sitting on a cart waiting to be put away at the library a few weeks ago when I was there picking up my latest stash of kid materials. As much as I’m loving Baby Signs and Raffi (and I do actually really like Raffi) these days, us mommies need something with a bit more depth and intrigue to balance out the day. I don’t know if I would have read it if I hadn’t come across it by chance. Too often I am disappointed in the prize-winning books (Us Conductors won the Giller Prize last year), but not this time. There is a freshness to the voice, a creativity to the storytelling and a level of effort and craft to the writing in this book that is really special. After reading all those music reviews I’m not surprised – all of those elements are in his weekly column, too. To see that style played out over the course of a whole novel was just delightful.
Another thing to point out: I think men will like this book. So much literary fiction is geared toward a female audience and I often see the men in my life struggling to find a good book. There’s a little bit of James Bond in Lev, the inventor, who is a spy as well as a scientist, and the time period the book is set in shows the seeds of the Cold War brewing between the United States and Russia.
After making these muffins and enjoying zucchini in salads and pasta the past couple of weeks I am sorry that I did not plant any of this delicious veggie in my garden. It’s on next year’s garden wish list. I know zucchini is notorious for overproducing, but it is so versatile – I would happily freeze it to use all winter long.
I’ve talked before about trying to reduce or eliminate animal products like butter and eggs from my cooking. I’ve been experimenting with coconut oil as a substitute for butter lately and it is wonderful in these muffins. The tops have a delicious crunch and I think it’s the coconut oil that does it. I made these muffins on quite a hot day so the coconut oil I keep on my counter top was very soft – the consistency of half-melted butter. This was perfect for mixing in with the other ingredients. If it is a bit colder out I think it would be worth warming up the oil to create that same melted texture.
Makes 12 muffins
4 cups grated zucchini
2 flax “eggs” (combine 2 tablespoons ground flax seed in a bowl with 6 tablespoons hot water; let sit for 5 minutes)
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup coconut oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour (I used a half-and-half mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup hemp hearts
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
Combine zucchini, flax eggs, honey, sugar, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Combine dry ingredients in another bowl and stir into zucchini mixture until just combined. Spoon into a greased muffin tin and bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until tops of the muffins are golden brown.
It is plum season at our house. One of the great pleasures of our garden is the old, gnarly plum tree growing in the southwest corner of our yard. When we moved in to our house last summer the tree was bursting with fruit. We ate as many as we could (which was a lot – I was about 6 months pregnant then!) and several of our friends came over with plastic grocery bags to pick the fruit. I called the food bank to see if they wanted to harvest some. The wasps had a field day with everything that dropped to the ground.
I have a memory of standing out on our deck surrounded by the loud buzz-buzz-buzz of circling wasps, drunken on overripe, fermenting fruit. I remember thinking I should really do something about this, I should get out the hose and some soap and spray the whole thing down. Instead I ignored the mess and stood there eating plum after plum, with sticky juice streaming down my arm, realizing how happy I was to be in my new home with a little bambino kicking away inside me.
The tree is not quite as full of fruit as last year, but there is still more than enough. I’ve been taking baskets of plums with me wherever I go and I hope all of our friends and neighbours are enjoying the receiving as much as I am enjoying the sharing. It is such a proud feeling to show off the home-grown goods.
When I was in Vancouver last week I brought along some plums to share with a dear friend. We met up at the beach for a dinner-time picnic of salad, cheese and fruit, and while we were picnicking she described a recipe for plum cake. She is a great cook and a foodie extraordinaire, so I knew I had to try it. Sure enough, it was absolutely delicious.
As you know, I can’t resist tinkering with recipes to suit my own tastes, so this is an adaptation on the famous plum cake recipe she sent me from the delightful smitten kitchen site – truly one of the best food blogs out there. I used our golden plums instead of purple ones, spelt flour instead of wheat flour to make it gluten-free, and some hemp hearts and a little less sugar to make it a tiny bit healthier (although not too little sugar – as I once learned, yellow plums turn quite sour when you bake them).
The only problem with the recipe is that the cake is gone in a flash. We enjoyed it the other night with my in-laws and everyone agrees it is already time to make more. I’ve got another one in the oven right now for our neighbourhood shindig later this afternoon and it smells so good.
Yellow plum cake
1 cup spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar (I used raw cane sugar), plus 1-2 tablespoons for sprinkling on top of the cake
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
8-10 golden plums, pitted and halved (I’m sure any kind of plum would be delicious)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Heat oven to 350F. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add in eggs and then dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Spoon batter into a 9″ springform pan and top with plums, skin side up. Sprinkle the cake with lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon, and bake for about 45 minutes. So easy, so delish!
Nectarines are one of my very favourite fruits. As someone who loves pretty much everything in the fruit and vegetable department I think that is saying something. What is it about nectarines? They’re perfect. Sweet, summery, beautiful to smell and touch and see. No fuzzies. Not that I have anything against peaches, they are delicious, too (especially as jam), but I really prefer nectarines for eating as a snack or in a salad like this one.
I’ve been eating California nectarines for about a month now and it is so nice to see the BC fruit here. I also found this delicious, Canadian-grown and made Balsamic Fig and Date Mustard at the store a few weeks ago and I am in love with it for salad dressings.
Spinach, nectarine and Brie salad
For the salad, pile greens, diced nectarines, slices of Brie and pumpkin seeds into a bowl. Spoon on dressing and enjoy!
For the dressing, combine 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, and 2 tablespoons dijon mustard. Try Kozlik’s if you can find it – there is a wonderful sweetness with the dates and figs. If you can’t find it, use regular dijon and add a tablespoon of maple syrup. I use a mason jar for dressing. Once you’ve combined all the ingredients, give it a shake and spoon the dressing over your salad. Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge for another day – just take the dressing out of the fridge about an hour before you want to use it so the oil can warm up (it will go solid-ish in the fridge).